Florida Partners in Crisis founder, Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., has announced his retirement effective at the end of August. The move came as a surprise from the judge, who was re-elected to a six-year term in 2012 and has served as Chief Judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit a total of 18 years. Perry is known as a champion for individuals with mental illnesses, veterans, victims of crime and the falsely accused. He has also worked tirelessly for resources to modernize and appropriately fund Florida’s court system.
Founded in court. Nearly two decades ago, Perry had a young woman in his courtroom with a serious substance abuse problem under a court order through the Myers Act (now the Marchman Act). Perry ordered the woman into residential treatment for her substance abuse. At the conclusion of the hearing, Sally Wolfe, the court’s mental health manager went to the Judge’s chambers to inform Perry the woman would not be going to court ordered treatment. Wolfe told the judge there were no beds available at the treatment facility. Wolfe went on to explain the problem the community was having related to mental health and substance abuse treatment services. In addition to so few substance abuse treatment beds, three inpatient mental health units had closed and over 400 people with mental illnesses were in the Orange County jail.
At that point, Perry decided the best way to understand the issues and search for solutions was to bring all community partners to the table. He called together the Clerk of the Court who happened to be former Orange County Chairwoman, Linda Chapin, along with treatment providers, the Department of Children and Families, law enforcement, the State Attorney and Public Defender. Shortly after the first meeting of the group, Seminole County Deputy Eugene Gregory was killed by Allen Singletary, a man with paranoid schizophrenia, who had fallen through the cracks of the mental health system. The incident, in which Singletary was also killed, served to bring added urgency to the ongoing treatment crisis. Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger joined the group’s efforts. Gregory’s widow, Linda, and Singletary’s sister Alice Petree eventually became advocates for the group and together with Eslinger were also instrumental in bringing Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to Central Florida.
Together, the diverse group educated and successfully lobbied the Florida Legislature for additional dollars for mental health and substance abuse treatment for the Orlando area. In 1998, recognizing they could duplicate their success by expanding the model statewide, Florida Partners in Crisis was founded. Thanks to Perry’s leadership, the non-profit organization incorporated in October 2000 and now has more than 500 members throughout Florida.
“Although Florida still struggles with many of these issues, Judge Perry’s foresight to bring the judiciary, law enforcement, providers and families together on behalf of individuals with mental illnesses and addiction has become a model for the country,” according to Partners’ Executive Director Gail Cordial. “The power of those collective groups have staved off numerous Tallahassee budget cuts in recent years and helped bring new program initiatives to many Florida communities.”
Perry has a long list of accomplishments, including Chair of the Governing Board of Orange County’s Central Receiving Center (CRC). The CRC, also a national model, was designed to be used by all Orange County law enforcement agencies as their primary receiving facility for Baker Act and Marchman Act assessments. The collaboration between county government, law enforcement, hospitals and treatment facilities helps increase the effectiveness of limited public resources.
“Judge Perry has worked tirelessly over the years in support of the CRC,” said Donna Wyche, Manager of Orange County’s Mental Health and Homeless Issues Division. “His work has helped thousands of individuals who struggle every day with brain illnesses. He is a true champion.”
In 1988, Perry was the first African American to win a circuit court judgeship without first being appointed. An Assistant State Attorney prior to his election, Perry has a total of 36 years in public service.
2014 Annual Conference and Justice Institute Sets Record Attendance
“With just over 500 attendees, the Conference far exceeded my attendance expectations,” said Executive Director Gail Cordial, “and people will tell you, I’m pretty optimistic about Partners’ all the time.”
Financial difficulties put the conference on hold in 2013 so Partners’ leaders weren’t certain what to expect for 2014. The 500 mark is 150 more than attended in 2012.
Equally exciting, the number of attendees across all professions also increased. “We were able to draw more law enforcement and corrections officers, judges, veteran’s affairs staff, public defender, state attorney and private practice attorneys in addition to problem-solving court staff and treatment providers,” said Cordial. In another first for 2014, two all-day CIT programs were offered – Train the Trainer and Advanced Refresher Training - which drew a combined attendance of over 100 individuals and was certified by the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Plenary speaker Dr. Frederick Frese (right) talks about his life with schizophrenia and how, despite his illness, he became Director of Psychology at Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital. The Annual Conference and Justice Institute is designed to bring innovative best-practices and practical community-based solutions to those who work with individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders who have become involved in the criminal justice system. Approximately 170,000 individuals with serious mental illnesses are arrested and booked into Florida jails each year at a cost of $1,000,000 per day.
The Conference planning committee co-chaired by 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Jeri Cohen and the Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health’s CEO, Dr. Linda DePiano, recruited some of the nation’s leading experts in criminal justice research to the Conference. In addition to the plenary sessions, 19 educational workshops included sessions on screening and assessment; housing; homelessness; PTSD; Veterans Justice Outreach programs; best practice standards for drug court and mental health courts and much more.
You can watch Partners’ Board Chairman, 17th Circuit Judge Mark Speiser’s inspirational welcome to kick off the Conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZeG1E6P9PA&feature=youtu.be
Copies of presentations can be found on the Conference website: www.flpicannualconference.org.
Tim Coffey Receives Chairman’s Award
Tim Coffey, Coordinator for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project, was selected for the Florida Partner’s in Crisis 2014 Chairman’s Award for his work on numerous FLPIC publications and dedication to ongoing advocacy research.
Coffey (pictured with Gail Cordial and Judge Steven Leifman) was instrumental in drafting A Judge’s Essential Guide to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, a bench book designed to
assist judges presiding over Florida’s problem-solving courts. The book has been distributed through FLPIC’s Justice Institute to all Florida judges.
Coffey is involved in the development, implementation, and evaluation of a variety of court-based projects and programs designed around the administration of the justice system and the needs of people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders involved in the justice system. In addition, he is experienced in the development of local, state and national policy and legislative priorities. Before joining the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Coffey was employed in public and private health care and community mental health settings, as well as academic research settings. He is a graduate of Auburn University with a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology, with a concentration in Behavioral Pharmacology and Substance Abuse.