Institute's Goal is to Improve Understanding of Mental Illness and Available Treatment Options
On any given day in Florida, there are more than 17,000 prison inmates, 15,000 local jail detainees and 40,000 individuals under community correctional supervision, who experience mental illnesses. The number of Floridians with mental illnesses who are in prison has increased 36% in the past five years. Without treatment, many individuals cycle through the system for the majority of their adult lives.
Florida has been at the forefront in programs that provide access to court-monitored treatment and services in lieu of continued jail time. The nation’s first drug court was created in Dade County in 1989, followed by the first mental health court in Broward County in 1997.
Unfortunately, continuing education programs have not kept pace with the advancement of these specialized courts. Additionally, we know that issues surrounding mental disorders can impact other areas of the court system such as Family Court and Probate Court.
As part of our mission, Partners in Crisis is developing continuing education courses on mental illness, addictions and developmental disabilities for judges, state attorneys, public defenders and the private bar.
The Partners in Crisis Board of Directors believes that through education and greater understanding of these diseases and disabilities justice officials will be more aware of community treatment options or diversion programs that may be appropriate for offenders who come before them in the courtroom. Following is an overview of the planned judicial education program:
Florida Partners in Crisis is working in partnership with the agencies and organizations named below to create educational materials on mental disorders and intellectual disabilities for use by judges, state attorneys, public defenders, legal services organizations, court personnel and private bar members. It is our intention that this program serve as an ongoing resource for court officials with up-to-date information, expanded course curriculums and online capabilities. There are currently no similar resource materials or courses offered to justice officials or the private bar.
Goals for Year 1:
1. The project will create a bench book that will explain the characteristics of mental disorders and intellectual disabilities including mental illnesses, substance use disorders, co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders, types of intellectual disabilities, autism and more. Citings for relevant Florida laws, statutes, rules and policies to provide immediate assistance to judges during court processes will also be included.
2. The project will create a resource guidebook for use by court personnel, attorneys and others to guide them to community resources, diversion programs, entitlement benefits and other resources that may be available for defendants with mental disorders or intellectual disabilities. Guidebooks will be distributed to state attorneys, public defenders, the chief judge, mental health court and other court officials in all 20 judicial circuits.
3. The project will include the development of a continuing education curriculum targeted to judges, public defenders, prosecuting attorneys and Florida Bar members. Courses will be offered at regional and statewide conferences and will be certified for continuing judicial education and continuing legal education course credits. In a second phase, materials will be made available online and via other electronic means.
Contributing Agencies and Organizations
Disability Rights Florida
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Florida
Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida
Office of State Courts Administrator
Florida Psychiatric Society Florida Institutional Legal Services