National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Florida's Alternatives to Incarceration

Mental illness should never be the reason someone is sitting at the defendant’s table, but without treatment, many persons with brain disorders find themselves in jail. According to the U.S. Justice Department, "16 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails have a mental illness, and most don’t get the treatment they need to function better once released." There is a known correlation between mental illness and re-incarceration in America, but states like Florida are taking steps to ease its share of the burden.

Brevard County has installed a Mental Health Court designed to end the cycle of repeat offenses by providing treatment for non-violent criminal offenders living with mental illnesses—instead of sending them to jail. The Court fulfills both economic and humanistic purposes by directing taxpayers’ dollars to cover the cost of mental health services instead of re-incarceration. Without the Court, these individuals would be placed in regular prisons where they would not receive the necessary supports to keep them from returning to the criminal justice system.

Aided by federal funds, the Court has helped over 200 defendants since it first opened its doors in 2003, and it has the potential for expansion if the government continues to endorse it. This breakthrough program serves as a model to other states for treating mental illnesses in prisoners first—before their lack of treatment costs money and lives.

Read the full editorial in Florida Today.