Inmates with mental problems in the Miami-Dade Jail sleep on sleep on metal bunks, are given food through a slot, and are let out of their cells twice a week to be sprayed with a hose attached to a concrete wall, reports the Miami Herald. ”It’s really unbelievable, a gulag,” said Judge Steven Leifman of Miami-Dade County Court. Now South Florida is poised to become a trend-setter: leaders are designing what could be among the first county jails ever to be built specifically for inmates with chronic and severe mental illness.
For decades, Miami has warehoused some 1,200 mentally ill inmates at its jail each day. Broward County’s jail dispensed psychiatric drugs to an average of 1,211 inmates each day last year, nearly one-fifth the jail’s population. The jails are, in essence, the state’s largest asylums. With a $22 million bond Miami-Dade voters approved last November, officials hope to outfit an existing state mental hospital with 50 short term residential beds and 100 jail beds for inmates with a diagnosed mental illness. The plan includes diverting the vast majority of the nonviolent inmates back to the community as soon as they are healthy enough. While most experts view the plans favorably, some say the new psychiatric jails could exacerbate a trend toward providing meaningful psychiatric care only when people become sick enough to draw the attention of police.