Hope For Florida Inmates With Mental Illness

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It could be the most important legislation for Floridians with mental illness since the Baker Act in the 1970s. But you wouldn't know it from the amount of press it's getting. A House panel approved a measure yesterday that would divert some of the state's most mentally ill to treatment centers instead of prisons. Check out the legislation here.

"The bill is remarkable," says Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, a longtime crusader for people with mental illness. "It changes the system to meet reality...these [inmates] need to be prepared to go out into the community."

This is big news for Miami-Dade County Jail - the largest psychiatric facility in Florida - where 1,200 inmates take psychotropic drugs. Here, mental health care costs the jail $50 million per year and beds have been overflowing for years. To top it off, these inmates have an 80 percent recidivism rate.

As it stands, Florida spends $250 million on prison beds for people with mental illness- money that would be much better spent on proper treatment. The bill first has to pass through other house committees. Should it pass, it will likely take 6 to 8 years before we start seeing effects of the changed system. Says Leifman: "It's not something you can flip like a switch."

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