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Miami Steps Up its Approach to Mental Illness and Crime

Mental Illness

Miami Steps Up its Approach to Mental Illness and Crime

Mental illness most definitely impacts every facet of society — from education to employment. But it seems to disproportionately impact the criminal justice system. In fact, a 2021 Health & Justice report found that people with a mental illness are three times more likely than the general population to interact with police, as well as to be arrested. They are also much more likely to have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder.

Okay, so that study culled and parsed data from 2016 Indianapolis, Indiana, but that doesn’t mean its findings were anomalous. Heck, in March of this year SAMHSA found an estimated 44% of people in jail and 37% of people in prison suffered from mental illness. That’s compared to 18% of the general population.

Indeed, the numbers continue to be staggering. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that people with serious mental illness are booked into jails two million times each year. Since “almost half of the people arrested for a mental health protection hold are arrested again within 60 days, and close to 25% are rearrested within 14 days of being released, many of those bookings involve the same person. But a revolving door doesn’t much mitigate the scope of the matter, especially considering nearly two of every five incarcerates have a history of mental illness.

The costs are equally staggering. In fact, compared to the general prison population, mentally ill prisoners not only cost more to house on a daily basis, but they are often incarcerated for longer periods. They’re also much more likely to commit suicide and/or be placed in solitary confinement.

Thank Zeus the City of Miami is stepping up to address the issue. It’s stepping up like a champion too!

Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery

Then again, the city does have damn good reason.

According to CBSNews Miami reporter Najahe Sherman, “the Miami-Dade County Jail serves as the largest psychiatric institution in Florida.” In fact, “it has as many beds for people with mental illnesses as all state civil and forensic mental health treatment facilities combined.”

Does that bode well for those who need treatment? Of course not. Heck, it doesn’t bode well for anyone, on either side of the crime divide, let alone those who stake mental illness. Nevertheless, it’s a fact. Yet rather than bemoan that fact, Miami-Dade is doing something about it.

It’s called the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery. This first-of-its-kind facility will “offer treatment and work to rehabilitate people with serious mental illnesses who are caught in the criminal justice system.”

In other words, this won’t simply be more of the same-old/same-old in a new facility.

“The facility will offer, among other things, transitional housing, outpatient behavioral health and primary care,” writes Sherman. “There will also be vocational rehabilitation and employment services and a courtroom and a space for legal and social service agencies.”

The Miami Center should not only benefit those who need its services, but it will also benefit the community at large. It will also do much to help Miami-Dade balance its budget.

Mental Illness Spending

Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman says the county spends $636,000 per day or $232 million per year to house an average daily population of 2,400 people with mental illnesses.

By contrast, the state spends just $47.3 million annually to provide community-based mental health services to about 34,000 people in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties.

To put it another way, Judge Leifman says $100,000 annually in taxpayer dollars are spent for each person with a mental illness in jail compared to $1400 for each person who manages to access care in the community.

So yeah, it’s in everybody’s best interests to get the treatable back on the street.

Monetizing Mental Illness

The problem is determining just who is treatable. Remember, these folks are in jail. And while they generally didn’t get there for no reason, the reasons aren’t always serious. In fact, more often then not the reasons were pretty much negligible. And yet. Remember, even drug possession is still a felony in Florida. And locking up someone for self-medicating just doesn’t make sense. Neither does incarcerating people for failure to pay fines. After all, they’re not going to be paying anyone from jail. But the county and/or the state will certainly be paying dearly for their stay.

Then again, that’s kinda the point behind the prison industrial complex to begin with. Generating as much revenue as possible by locking up as many people as possible so that the few at the top can prosper.

Then & Now

Here’s what Florida Times-Union reporter Matt Dixon wrote back in 2013 after Boca Raton-based GEO Group upped their take of the state’s private prison market by a cool $57 million, annually.

“Between 2006 and 2012, the state’s prison population increased by 11 percent to 100,928. Over that time, Florida’s private prison population grew 88 percent from 5,369 to 10,078. That includes the construction of two new facilities operated by private companies.”

And lest you think things have changed in the intervening decade, this comes from Jason Garcia’s substack:

“On Jan. 10, just 24 hours before the Florida Legislature opened its 2022 session, the private-prison contractor GEO Group and its executive chairman gave a combined $200,000 to a political committee controlled by the two top budget-writers in the Florida Senate: Senate President Wilton Simpson and Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel.”

“Six weeks later, the Florida Senate is pushing to spend $1.3 billion building a pair of 4,500-bed prisons.”

Two new Miami Centers would seem to be a better idea, one in Orlando and another in Jacksonville.

End of an Era?

Ever since states started closing their sprawling and antiquated psychiatric institutions, mental illness has largely fallen under the purview of the criminal justice system. Of course, jails and prisons weren’t meant to treat the mentally-challenged. Neither were the jailers. Yet, aside from the odd hospital, there was really nowhere else for them to go.

Nowhere was that more evident than in Miami-Dade County’s Main Jail. More commonly called DCJ (as in Dade County Jail), the 10-story structure dates back to 1961, when it was built to replace the 22 jails that were then scattered around the county.

Back then DCJ was probably a well-run institution. It may have even stayed that way for quite some time. But that time had elapsed long before the federal decree came down back in 2013. The County’s Main Jail hasn’t been allowed to house even a single inmate since.

By Federal Decree

That federal decree didn’t come easy though. Not in the least. In fact, it took a judge (Judge Leifman), a network affiliate (CBS Miami) and a dogged reporter (Michelle Gillen) a full seven years to get the feds to step in. And even then there was no end to the “horrific conditions.”

The parties’ primary concern was DCJ’s “Forgotten Floor,” which Judge Leifman described as “one of the most notorious floors of a jail in America.” Jailers had been cramming two or three mentally-challenged inmates into single-person cells for decades. It had also been denying them clothes, bed linen and – above all – hope.

Mostly though, forgotten floor incarcerates were denied their rights. Their punishment was both cruel and unusual. It was also far beneath any civil society’s “norms.” That’s obviously why Judge Leifman and Reporter Gillen held authorities’ feet to the fire. It’s also why the two finally succeeded.

Oh, mental health advocates had others battling on their behalf, including a crackerjack crew at CBS Miami itself. Still we can’t help thinking that the Miami Center largely came about on account of the pair’s relentless efforts.

We should all be deeply grateful.

And by we, we mean everyone in the Sunshine State. As the Miami Center’s About Us page notes, “the state ranks 43rd nationally in access to mental health care, has the 4th highest rate of adults with mental illnesses who are uninsured, and at $39.55 per capita, ranks 49th among all states and the District of Columbia in spending for community-based treatment.”

That’s not just an embarrassment, it’s unconscionable. We won’t hazard to guess how lawmakers ever let things get to this point, because we don’t want to hazard to guess how us citizens ever allowed it to happen. Did we all just keep electing the wrong lawmakers or what?

That’s what it looks like.

A Welcome & Laudable Development

That can’t be what it stays like though. It just can’t. The state’s not just spending billions to fail its citizens; it’s spending billions to make them sicker. And that’s gotta stop.

That’s why the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery is so welcome, and so laudable. We’re supposed to be the most advanced nation on earth; it’s terrific to see us start acting that way!

If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with substance abuse, please give us a ring. Healing Properties has been helping men find everlasting sobriety since 2002; we’d be honored to help you too.

Image courtesy Miami Center fir Mental Health and Recovery

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