After many mentally ill people spent weeks or months sitting in Pinellas County, Fl., jail cells, Public Defender Bob Dillinger won a $1-million federal grant last year to tackle the problem, says the St. Petersburg Times. Since then, some mentally ill inmates have been pulled from the jail within days after their mug shot is snapped. The program, which Dillinger thinks is a first-of-its-kind in the nation, places the inmates in treatment facilities that do a better of job of meeting their needs than a jail ever could. “We’re not trying to put people who are a safety risk out in the community,” said Dillinger, acknowledging that “we’re all on the edge of our seat about that.”
Of the 432 mentally ill people pulled from the Pinellas jail, 157 have successfully completed their program, while 275 remain in treatment. Only a few have re-offended while in treatment, though their new crimes have been no more serious than “getting high,” Dillinger said. He estimates that the program has saved the jail about $5.7-million. While the cost of housing a person in the jail averages about $79 per night (though it’s usually more for the mentally ill), the diversion program can find beds in treatment centers that run as low as $30 per night. In the magazine Corrections Today, American Correctional Association director James A. Gondles Jr. says the two largest providers of mental health services in the country are the Los Angeles County Jail and Riker’s Island in New York.