Dade Tries Out Jail/Hospital Combo for Mentally Ill

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.

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."

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