Sadly, Florida ranks near dead last nationally in the level of expenditures for front-end community-based mental health services. Yet it ranks near the top of the list in the area of forensic mental health services at the tail end.
The justice system is ill-suited to serve as the safety net for the mentally ill. Our jails and prisons have been forced to house an increasing number of individuals who are unable to access needed and competent community care.
The report outlines several consequences of failure to design and implement an appropriate system of community-based care for people who experience the most severe forms of mental illness:
• Substantial and disproportionate cost shifts from considerably less expensive, front-end services in the public health system to much more expensive, back-end services in the juvenile justice, criminal justice and forensic mental health systems.
• Compromised public safety.
• Increased arrest, incarceration, and criminalization of people with mental illness.
• Increased police shootings of people with mental illness.
• Increased police injuries.
• Increased rates of chronic homelessness.
It shouldn’t take another devastating loss of life to spur action on a growing problem in our society — the failure to provide a safety net to those who can be a danger in our communities if their mental illness is left untreated.
The Florida Legislature should quickly embrace the work of Judge Leifman and his expert task force — something that we failed to do in 2010 and each year after. Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish when so many precious lives are at risk.
Paula Dockery was term-limited as a Republican state senator from Lakeland after 16 years in the Florida Legislature.