Battling Against the Criminalization of Persons With Mental Illness: A Matter of Social Justice

September 3, 2014 6:08 PM

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Battling Against the Criminalization of Persons With Mental Illness: A Matter of Social Justice

Broward's Mental Health Court began as a community-based court of conscience. In 1997, a collaborative criminal justice/mental health local effort led to this specialized court innovation. Searching for solutions to the revolving door phenomenon of the criminalization of persons with mental illnesses, this court-based strategy was essentially the best we could do. Like all local jail systems, Broward's was and still is negatively impacted by a broken and chronically underfunded community-based system of behavioral health care. Years before, a small group of criminal justice leaders and mental health advocates assembled to seek change. Our local jail system was over-crowded with persons arrested with serious mental illness, a Federal Class Action was pending, and our courts were ill-equipped to respond to this population's complex needs.

I was lucky. A former attorney from the Florida Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) arrived to the bench at the same moment when the winds of change were already in place. The vision and mission of our community were very clear. We had no funding, no grants, no staff;...

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