NEW MENTAL HEALTH COURTS WILL TREAT MENTAL ILLNESS AS A DISEASE RATHER THAN A CRIME

Prisons in the United States are disproportionately filled with people suffering from mental illneess whom the criminal justice system treats as criminals. One exasperated Florida judge named Steve Leifman even declared that he’d unwittingly bcome the gatekeeper of Florida’s largest pschiatric facility.

But Miami Judge Leifman is helping solve the problem by creating special mental health courts that will stop treating mental illness as a crime. 

Everyone in the criminal justice system is aware of the problem. Yet few have had the courage to do anything about it. Here’s an example from years ago when I was a prosector. An elderly lady took a pair of sunglasses from a pharmacy without paying. After her arrest for theft I was assigned to be her prosector. At her first pretrial her lawyer gave me hundreds of pages of documents with her medical and psychiatric reports detailing her dementia with a firm diagnosis of alzheimers. But this was not enough to set the case aside based on her mental comptency.

The Pinellas State Attorney at the time, James Russell, as moribund and lazy as a poisoned mouse, did what elected officials often do. He passed the buck, yet the judge didn’t want to simply dismiss the case either. Ultimately no one in the legal system had the courage to simply do the right thing and dismiss the case, which like a long gray winter dragged on until the lady died. 

It’s refreshing to find on the horizon a courageus fair Miami judge who wants to help the twenty percent of Floridians with mental illness who are not in a posistion to help themselves. 

Is there a similar judge in Tampa Bay, Florida willing to stand up with Judge Leifman to make our criminal justice system more effective?