"We have a criminal justice system which has a very clear purpose," says Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman. "You get arrested. We want justice. We try you, and justice hopefully prevails. It was never built to handle people that were very, very ill, at least with mental illness."
According to a National Public Radio report, the three largest psychiatric facilities in the nation are within prisons. However, such facilities are understaffed and lack the resources to properly treat the great number of prisoners with psychiatric issues. This is compounded by the fact that many of these prisoners are ultimately found incompotent to stand trial, and are released back into their communities before they can be fully diagnosed and begin proper treatment.
The chain of events this creates is staggering. A study by the University of South Florida determined that the 97 highest users of mental health services in Miami-Dade County were arrested almost 2,200 times over a five year period, and spent 27,000 days in the Miami-Dade Jail. "It cost the taxpayers $13 million," says Judge Leifman.
To be sure, there is a need to protect society from violent offenders. In such cases, it is wholly appropriate to separate these individuals from those that they might harm. But a system that does not provide adequate treatment, and ultimately releases these offenders time and time again, does not serve society well. It fails to curb such crime, fails to assist those with mental health issues, and costs the community an exorbitant amount of money.
Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship's program focused on justice reform, is committed to improving the current system. To find out what Justice Fellowship is doing to bring change on this issue, click here.
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