December 6, 2007

New Report: Mentally ill in Florida's legal system

Florida's Supreme Court is tackling the massive problem of mental illness in the correctional and family court systems. In a new report, a mental health committee acknowledges that correctional facilities have become the largest providers of mental health services for the poor, and recommends ways to address this growing problem.

The report follows media exposes detailing the plight of the mentally ill trapped in Florida's legal system. Mentally ill people often end up homeless and with substance abuse problems, leading to a revolving door of incarceration for minor nuisance offenses. The report recommends reforms to link the mentally ill to services that will reduce recidivism, and to improve the handling of mentally ill individuals in the juvenile, foster care, and child protective systems.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York chose Florida as one of seven states to address the national crisis of the mentally ill in the legal system. The 170-page report is supposed to be the first step in a major overhaul that will include additional training for members of the judiciary. The report's massive title gives a hint of the massiveness of the project: "Mental Health: Transforming Florida's Mental Health System: Constructing a Comprehensive and Competent Criminal Justice/Mental Health/Substance Abuse Treatment System: Strategies for Planning, Leadership, Financing, and Service Development."

The report is available online. The National Institute of Corrections has a number of related documents online on the crisis of mental illness and substance abuse in the U.S. criminal and family court systems.