The Miami-Dade County has earned a reputation of being the gold standard on how to appropriately handle mentally ill inmates. As L.A. County debates building a new $1.7 billion jail, mostly devoted to treat mentally ill offenders, the county is looking to Miami for better ways of handling this overflow.

Miami Mental Illness Population vs. Nation Average

Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts spoke about Miami-Dade County’s exceptional program; “It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else…” When you look at the statistics, the basis of Leifman’s argument is accurate – the national average for serious mental illness in the population is 3 percent, while Miami-Dade County’s mental illness population is triple the average  percentage at 9.1 percent.

Leifman goes on to explain the studies done on the Miami-Dade County’s mentally ill inmates; “What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars…” Miami Dade County has focused efforts on Medicare to fund treatment for the ill, implementing these treatments for those who have received misdemeanors or are non-violent felons.

Treatment vs. Serving Time

While Miami proves to have found a way to handle the overflow, and is focused on helping the prisoners who clearly need mental treatment (as opposed to harsher punishments), Fred Osher, Director of Health Systems and Services Policy at the Council of State Governments Justice Center admits that recreating Miami’s success may be difficult. He states that, “it really requires attention to all the intercepts in order to make the difference going forward.”

One reason L.A. has issues is due to long waits for transfers to state facilities. “And then, at state facilities, long periods of time providing them basic information about core processing, and then they’re often just let out for time served without anything good happening.” In comparison, Miami focuses not on the prisoner’s court date, but rather treating the defendants for their eventual release so that the likeliness of them being charged again is less likely.