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Mental Health Issues and Criminal Justice


Mental health issues could be a factor when one is charged with criminal behavior.  When it does, the question that needs to be answered is whether incarceration is the appropriate response when individuals with mental illnesses commit crimes in Florida?  While the merits of every case must be weighed individually, it is clear that mental and emotional problems that plague accused and/or convicted criminals is a topic worth discussing.

Florida Facts 

The criminal justice system is mired with issues surrounding individuals who suffer from a variety of mental health concerns.  Studies indicate that the Sunshine State is ranked near the bottom of the United States in terms of providing mental health treatment for the public at large.  This means many conditions go undiagnosed and untreated, leaving sufferers to manage the complications of daily living without important counseling or medication interventions.  Every year, roughly 120,000 of them wind up behind bars in Florida.

Police intervention is often required when those with mental illnesses experience delusions or when they have a psychotic episode.  These individuals may be involved in criminal activity, or may simply become engaged in frightening or alarming behaviors.  Additionally, they are much more apt to experience homelessness and substance abuse issues thereby increasing their exposure to criminal activity and law enforcement interventions.

This leads to some startling statistics:

  • Although just 5 percent of the population in this country suffers from a mental illness, 16 percent of the prison population does;
  • There are five times more people in Miami-Dade County Jail who suffer from mental illnesses than there are in any of the psychiatric institutions throughout the state;
  • Prisoners who are discharged following incarceration often struggle to maintain services and medications, which in turn leads to difficulties meeting probation requirements, resulting in further consequences;
  • Even individuals who are charged with minor crimes such as public urination or petty theft are at a higher risk of suicide when placed behind bars.

Interventions Address Challenges 

Across the nation, a number of innovative interventions seek to provide better outcomes for the mentally ill.  Three of the most promising ideas include:

  • Crisis Intervention Teams that train law enforcement officers in how to interact with those suffering from mental illnesses in ways that de-escalate problems. Florida has invested in these problem-solving teams.
  • Mental Health Courts that evaluate clients and make necessary referrals to mental health treatment facilities rather than relying on incarceration; Florida has 25 such courts as of March 2019;
  • Assertive Community Treatment teams who assist in providing continuous, structured services for individuals following their release. Florida Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) programs provide support to Florida adults suffering from mental health issues in their own communities.

Criminal Justice 

It is important for every person who is charged with a crime to be treated fairly under the U.S. Constitution.  To schedule a confidential consultation with a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney about the mental health issues related to your legal experience contact attorney Deric Zacca today.