Mental Illness Associated with a Forensic Interaction

In nearly all situations, a mental illness crisis is not associated with any criminal event. This fact is in contrast to the false image portrayed in Hollywood movies and propagated by stigma. Instead, a mental illness crisis flare up is almost always resolved or handled by treatment in a civil Crisis Stabilization Unit (at Meridian or ShandsVista). However, during a crisis a person with a mental illness may somehow commit a minor or major crime. This is usually done unintentionally or accidently. In this particular situation, family members should immediate contact the Alachua County Jail to notify authorities of the mental illness diagnosis history and all medications that are required of their loved one in the jail:

  • Alachua County Jail Main Switchboard: (352)-491-4444

  • Alachua County Jail Mental Health Counselor: (352)-491-4648

  • Alachua County Jail Nurse (24 hour): (352)-491-2865

Misdemeanor
Baker Act Florida Statute [s. 394.462(1)(f), F.S.] states: " When any law enforcement officer has custody of a person based on either noncriminal or minor criminal behavior that meets the statutory guidelines for involuntary examination under this part, the law enforcement officer shall [must] transport the person to the nearest receiving facility for examination." (crisis stabilization unit not jail)

Felony
Baker Act Florida Statute [s. 394.462(1)(g), F.S.] states: " When any law enforcement officer has arrested a person for a felony and it appears that the person meets the statutory guidelines for involuntary examination or placement under this part, such person shall first be processed in the same manner as any other criminal suspect. The law enforcement agency shall thereafter immediately notify the nearest public receiving facility, which shall be responsible for promptly arranging for the examination and treatment of the person. A receiving facility is not required to admit a person charged with a crime for whom the facility determines and documents that it is unable to provide adequate security, but shall provide mental health examination and treatment to the person where he or she is held. "

Mental Health Court

This program is designed to divert mentally ill and developmentally disabled defendants from jail. The Alachua County Court Services in partnership with the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Department of Children and Families, defense attorneys, state attorneys and treatment providers, has developed a Mental Health Court program to deal with defendants arrested for misdemeanor offenses who have a mental illness or are developmentally disabled. Mental Health Court serves as a pre-adjudication diversion program in which charges of the defendants who successfully complete Mental Health Court will be dismissed. Participation in Mental Health Court is voluntary and the average length of the program is from four to six months.

Our NAMI Report on the Jail Conditions

Our NAMI Gainesville group of family members asked the Alachua County Sheriff's Office to give us a tour of the Alachua County Jail, in order to satisfy our questions about its suitability for holding people with a mental illness whom had also committed a crime. The following is a summary of our group's report that was printed in a recent NAMI Newsletter. We found that this special pod is adequately isolated from the rest of the jail inmates, and that jail security personnel in this pod adequately address the special needs of inmates with a severe mental illness, as described below:

Lt. McGregor and Sgt. Ramsey of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office led a group of fourteen NAMI Gainesville members and friends on a tour of the mental illness pods at the Alachua County Jail on March 21. The tour was arranged by Capt. Jeffery R. Cloutier of the Security Operations Division. This was an opportunity for us to find out more about how people with a serious and persistent mental illness interface with the criminal justice system. It also offered an opportunity for us, as NAMI and family members, to expand our relationship with the people who make that system what it is.

Our closely escorted group was granted liberal access to both the male and female pods. Based on our one hour tour and talks with jail personnel, it appeared that the jail staff is truly concerned about the welfare of incarcerated persons with a mental illness. Indeed they vocally shunned the old stereotype of the "jailer bossman", and seemed to be proud to "help" serve the special situation of inmates that are mentally ill. Nonetheless, it was apparent from the physical layout and security personnel behavior that incarceration and isolation from the public was their primary job. Our group was surprised that the mental health pod is a special unit that is physically separated from the other inmates in the jail. The jail staff in this pod are permanently assigned, so they interact closely with each inmate on a daily basis, knowing their individual personalities and medical conditions. We ran into a jail mental health provider who told us that each inmate in the pod had a "treatment plan" (although we did not get a sense of the extent or appropriateness of such plans). Mental health screening and services are contracted locally through Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. Meridian also works closely with the courts the Mental Health Court Project. This allows for non-violent, cooperative inmates release under the condition of participating in Meridian’s community mental health program.

We walked around in the open common area that doubles as the dining area--the staff "locked down" the inmates in their rooms during our tour of the pod, and then opened their doors as soon as we left. Inmates are encouraged to use the gym/basketball court of the mental health pod, which is separate from the gym serving the rest of the jail. This gym is open to the outdoor sky, although it is covered by bars. Overall the facilities were very clean and bright. The cells are adequate in size--they could be described as spartan concrete block dorm rooms with locked heavy doors equipped with large plexiglass windows facing the common area. It looked like the jail personnel have ready visual access to the inside of the rooms/cells as well as the common area. There were no clanging barred barriers within the pod. The mental health pods (male and female) were not overly crowded the particular night we visited; inmates were assigned to individual rooms with two per room. However, the standard pods were very crowded, with extra cots set up in their common area in order to handle bedding arrangements. Presumably this pattern of crowded bedding would also occur in the mental health pod, either periodically or on a continual basis. Such a setting would jeopardize the "treatment" of many of the mental illnesses.

NAMI as an organization is concerned that the jail system in America has become the de facto largest mental health provider in communities. The Alachua County Jail is not an exception to this trend, and Lt. McGregor was openly concerned about this. We were pleased to learn that several jail personnel have taken the new CIT course (Crisis Intervention Team), and even more pleased to hear that additional jail personnel are planning to enroll in the next course this fall.

 

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