Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Justice picks special advisor to help with mentally ill inmates

Posted on Thu, Apr. 05, 2007

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE - The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court has appointed a Miami-Dade County judge to serve as a special adviser on how to keep mentally ill people out of the criminal justice system and ensure those who are incarcerated are treated properly.

Judge Steve Leifman's goal will be to find ways to prevent repeat criminals, find appropriate treatment for mentally ill offenders while in custody and to help mentally ill inmates re-enter their communities and get continuing care and medication.

"The courts do not make policy, and we will not make policy, but we're going to help those who do," Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis said at a news conference Wednesday in which he introduced Leifman as a special adviser on the issue.

They were joined Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, Department of Children & Families Secretary Bob Butterworth, Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil and Department of Corrections chief of staff Richard Prudom.

Leifman said 70,000 mentally ill people are arrested annually in Florida, and the costs associated with jailing them or sending them to state hospitals are enormous.

"When I became a judge, I had no idea I would become a gatekeeper to the largest psychiatric facility in the state of Florida, and that would be the Miami-Dade County jails," he said. "Every day our jails, our courts and law enforcement agencies are witnesses to a parade of misery brought on by untreated mental illness."

Leifman will use a $35,000 grant from The Florida Bar Foundation to work on the issue full time for the next two months and will make recommendations to the court at the conclusion of that time. The grant will pay for his travel and for a replacement on the bench while he works out of the Supreme Court. Lewis hopes the Legislature will place money in its budget to continue the study after that.

The issue comes after Butterworth's predecessor, Lucy Hadi, was found in contempt of court by a Pinellas County judge for not moving mentally ill prisoners to state hospitals after they were found incompetent to stand trial.

Butterworth helped reach a settlement by offering to begin treating mentally ill prisoners in jail while the department sought hospital beds for them. That, along with $16.6 million approved by a joint legislative committee to create more than 350 new treatment beds, resolved the dispute.
"Everyone we know wants to work together," Butterworth said.

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