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Attorney General Moody Wraps Up Summer Mental Health Series

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody - flanked on both sides by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco - led a discussion in Tampa Wednesday about mental health and the criminal justice system.
Daylina Miller
The Florida Channel
Florida Attorney General Ashely Moody

Reducing recidivism, streamlining costs, and addressing mental health issues for law enforcement officers and people who have committed crimes are among the topics Attorney General Ashley Moody has tackled in a series of “round table” talks that concluded Friday. 

After the fourth session on the issue that Moody has made one of her top priorities since taking office in January, the attorney general said she needs more time to digest the input she’s gathered from judicial leaders throughout the state.

“The recommendations that are coming out of this may end up being presented as some sort of legislative change request, but we’ll have to do that after taking the information we’ve learned,” Moody told reporters, after judges from across the state discussed the impact of mental health on the courts.

Earlier roundtables focused on mental health issues within law enforcement ranks and treating people with diagnosable disorders before and after they are arrested.

Judge Steve Leifman, a member of the 11th Judicial Circuit who is also an advisor to the Florida Supreme Court on criminal justice and mental health, said standards are needed for every court in the state to ensure “right people come into these courts and we get good outcomes.”

“We really have two choices in this state,” Leifman said. “We can continue to release people from the criminal justice system without treatment, or we can release them with treatment. We all know, sitting around the table, and everyone involved in the mental health courts will tell you, the treatment works.”

State Rep. Paul Renner, who serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants to learn more about how resources are spent on people with serious mental health issues, once they’ve encountered the courts.

Renner, a lawyer, said he may ask Leifman to address his committee in advance of the 2020 legislative session that begins in January.

“Adopting some of the steps he’s taken … I think is something I want to look at,” Renner, R-Palm Coast, said after participating in Friday’s roundtable session at the Florida Supreme Court.

According to a release from Moody’s office, Florida currently spends $800 million annually to house people with mental illness in jails, prisons and forensic treatment facilities. An estimated 132,252 people with serious mental illnesses are arrested in Florida each year, yet the state ranks 43rd nationally for mental health care funding.

Florida is also the fourth-highest state in the nation for uninsured adults with mental health issues, her office said.

Moody said work is needed to cut down on arrests of people who wind up in a "revolving door" in the court system.

“Are those that are urinating in public, do those need to be arrested and housed and do you as a taxpayer need to pay for them for an extended period of time, or is it better the get them stabilized within the community and make sure we keep them stabilized?” she said. “When we put them back out, if they’ve been stabilized, they can continue that stabilization, so that the court and the jails do not become a revolving door for dealing with these types of situations.”

While mental health courts already in existence may be built around the needs of a particular community, Moody said they can provide a template for other counties.

“Today was a snapshot of where we are. Fourteen out of our 20 (judicial) circuits have mental health courts and judges that are specifically focused on that, along with 24 out of our 67 counties. But, we have a long way to go in making sure that we are specifically and appropriately dealing with those suffering mental health issues within the criminal justice system,” she said.