Hope For Florida Inmates With Mental Illness

It could be the most important legislation for Floridians with mental illness since the Baker Act in the 1970s. But you wouldn't know it from the amount of press it's getting. A House panel approved a measure yesterday that would divert some of the state's most mentally ill to treatment centers instead of prisons. Check out the legislation here.

"The bill is remarkable," says Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, a longtime crusader for people with mental illness. "It changes the system to meet reality...these [inmates] need to be prepared to go out into the community."

This is big news for Miami-Dade County Jail - the largest psychiatric facility in Florida - where 1,200 inmates take psychotropic drugs. Here, mental health care costs the jail $50 million per year and beds have been overflowing for years. To top it off, these inmates have an 80 percent recidivism rate.

As it stands, Florida spends $250 million on prison beds for people with mental illness- money that would be much better spent on proper treatment. The bill first has to pass through other house committees. Should it pass, it will likely take 6 to 8 years before we start seeing effects of the changed system. Says Leifman: "It's not something you can flip like a switch."

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