As the pioneer of the first mental-health court in the United States, I know that the response by the state of Florida Department of Corrections to certify corrections officers in mental health in response to documented abuses in Florida’s prisons fails to address the real problem.
The criminalization of people with mental illness has been a human stain on our state and nation for decades. It is largely a result of a statewide mental healthcare system that’s in shambles.
The failure of Florida’s policymakers to enact Medicaid expansion, for example, has driven our state deeper into crisis and solidified a race to the bottom, where Florida has languished at 49th in per capita mental-health funding in the United States.
Our state has stubbornly refused to establish a functional and accessible community-based mental-health system, which puts all our families and communities in peril.
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Every day I see families in unspeakable crisis, not because there are no effective mental-health treatment and services, but because they cannot access those services.
The state of Florida, with all its ethnic diversity, a large senior population, a high prevalence of poverty and high rates of financial stress, is complex and in dire need of help. Yet, our state has stubbornly refused to accept that there is simply “no health without mental health.”
The human and economic costs of untreated mental illness in our state is not sustainable. The criminalization of people with untreated mental illness is one consequence. Others include worsening health, family erosion, substance abuse, job loss, domestic violence, homelessness, medical problems, crime and suicide.
It is time for our policymakers to develop a cogent, rational and welcoming statewide mental-health system. All Floridians, young and old, deserve enhanced access to evidenced-based and integrated mental-health treatment and care. The research tells us treatment works, and early intervention is keenly important. Moreover, jails and prisons are not humane treatment environments.
A policy fix is long overdue. It is time to invest and fund community-based and integrated mental healthcare in Florida. It is a matter of public health, public safety and smart justice.
Broward County Mental Health Court,