Following a scathing report criticizing treatment of mentally ill defendants who languish sometimes for years in the criminal justice system (and six times longer than a person with comparable charges in regular court , the Broward State Attorneys Office devised a partial solution: A mental health diversion program that would get people out of the criminal justice system.
The idea, modeled after a program launched in Miami-Dade in 2008, focuses on treatment – rather than incarceration – for those who are mentally ill. Non-violent offenders without lengthy rap sheets who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness would be vetted by the state attorneys office. Those accepted would receive housing support, therapy, medication management and other assistance. Those who successfully complete the program (in six months to a year) would be allowed to have the criminal charges dropped.
It’s a start, critics say, but so far, the program has accepted just one applicant. What’s more, even when it reaches capacity at 60 defendants, that’s not going to make much of a dent when there are an estimated 1,200 cases overflowing in felony mental health court. Plus, there is no guarantee of assistance to those who are already enmeshed in the system, charged with minor felonies. Continue reading