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Wakulla Times Article--Legislation Proposed to Assist the Mentally Ill-January 2011

By Sheriff David Harvey
 
Legislation Proposed to Assist the Mentally Ill

Federal health officials believe that taxpayers would save money if individuals with mental illnesses were treated instead of incarcerated. At the present time, jails and prisons are being used to address these problems as the criminal justice system has taken over from public health as the destination for many people with mental illnesses and addictions.

Florida Rep. Janet Adkins, a Republican from Nassau County, has proposed legislation for the 2011 session that she hopes will address some of the problems of individuals with mental health issues ending up in Florida courts and jails.

The bill would provide additional responsibilities to contractors of the Department of Children and Family Services and require the department to make certain training available to correctional personnel. The proposed law would provide an involuntary outpatient treatment program that would require patients to take all prescribed medications and create a supportive employment program.

A proposed Forensic Mental Health Probation and Parole Program would designate correctional probation officers as forensic probation officers and authorize the Department of Corrections to establish an advisory work group to assist with the program.

In addition, each judicial circuit would have a mental health court established by the chief judge and the state will be asked to examine the causes and impacts the incarceration of mentally ill have in state and local facilities.

Major Jared Miller and Captains Randall Taylor and Jackie Norrman provide oversight of our Wakulla County Jail and they know first-hand the impact mental health related inmates can have on our jail facility. This is an issue that impacts Wakulla County, but it also creates impacts all over the State of Florida and the United States.

Major Miller discussed a situation which has become familiar to local law enforcement officials. In this particular case, a mentally ill and homeless man was walking in a beach community. Residents in the area contacted our office because they feared his suspicious nature. A deputy was called out to investigate and determined that the man was also intoxicated. The man put up a brief struggle with deputies because he could not understand why he was being taken into custody. The deputies wanted to take him to the jail facility for his own protection and determine if they could help him in any way.

A reduction in psychiatric beds has forced the criminal justice system to become the alternative to keep mentally ill citizens away from society. Research statistics note that eight percent of all jail bookings nationally involve persons with severe mental illness. A 2005 study concluded that 24 percent of the prison population has a severe mental illness.

Researchers have linked the increase in prison inmates with mental illness to the falling number of state psychiatric beds. Substance abuse also remains a serious problem among those who are charged with crimes. A 1999 study determined that six out of every 10 mentally ill offender reported that they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their latest offense.

Research has found significant progress in reducing addictions rates among inmates when public-health efforts are combined with those of the criminal justice system.
Local jails find it difficult to help the mentally ill inmate because our facilities lack the equipment and training to handle the mentally ill. There is also a time lapse issue of getting the inmate the help he or she needs. Once in jail it may be weeks before we can locate bed space for the mentally ill so they can get the help they need.

Once inside our facility, many of the mentally ill patients require 24 hour monitoring to make sure they do not harm themselves. Unfortunately, once they get back out into the community there is a good chance we will see them in our jail facility again because they are not getting the long term care they need.

Rep. Adkins is seeking input on her proposed bill from Florida Sheriffs in an effort to be prepared for the possible passage during the spring Florida Legislative Session in 2011.
We must support this bill and any other that addresses this serious problem that has become a burden on our criminal justice system.

 

 

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