The death of James Lee Griffin, 21, in a Florida jail after fighting with deputies focuses attention on the large number of inmates with mental illnesses and their impact on jail systems nationwide, says the Lakeland (Fl.) Ledger. It sheds some light on why Florida Partners in Crisis, a statewide group that pairs law enforcement and mental-health advocates, wants jail diversion programs. Griffin said he had bipolar disorder, a mental illness, but that he wasn’t on medication for it.
“They do have a special needs unit for the inmates that are the most symptomatic, but there’s limited space,” said Risdon Slate, mental-health advocate and criminology department chairman at Florida Southern College. “The number of (special needs) beds available in the jail certainly nowhere meets the number of people taking psychotropic medications.” Hundreds of inmates in the Polk County jail system — almost one in five — are on medicine for mental disorders. The Special Needs Unit, or SNU, can house 30 men and 16 women, a small fraction of the 400-plus on medication. Tthe number who take psychotropic medications isn’t a true picture of those with mental illnesses. Others aren’t on medication for a variety of reasons. As many as three-fourths of people arrested who have mental illnesses aren’t on their medications when they come to the jail, said Derek Zimmerman, mental-health liaison for the jail.