In an attempt to fix a broken system, Judge Steve Leifman announced plans this morning for a first-of-its-kind "pilot facility" to house mentally ill individuals with criminal charges in Miami-Dade. Leifman -- an articulate, bespectacled advisor to the Supreme Court on mental health issues -- explained to TV reporters, policymakers, and lawyers the county will create the nation's first "forensic diversion facility" at NW Seventh Avenue and 22nd Street. The goal: to stop using jails as psych wards, and to save some money doing it.
The building will house mentally ill inmates in a jail on one floor. On another, inmates deemed less dangerous -- and those making mental health progress -- will be kept in a unit more akin to a hospital. There will also be an in-house courtroom for Baker Act hearings. To pay for the building's estimated $2-$3 million startup, the county will pull heavily from state and federal funds made available by the economic stimulus package. It could open in as soon as three months.
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In the end, these types of centers will save the state money, Leifman points out. Florida spends about a half-billion dollars per year on forensic care for the mentally ill in the prison system. He adds, "It's a fragmented system that's horribly underfunded... There's a better way to do this."