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August 24, 2005

New Jail Diversion Program in Florida

The Tampa Tribune reported this week that that city has an expanded Jail Diversion Program Proposed at a cost of $500,000 for the 2005/06 budget year. This is good news for the mentally ill, especially people with bipolar disorder as they represent a significant number. The jail diversion program will likely reduce the number of people suffering in jail and we hope to see these programs in every city in the US eventually.

Reporter Todd Leskanic wrote, in the story, that:

"A program to treat mentally ill defendants in Pinellas County has been proposed for Pasco.

"This is a growing problem nationwide," Dillinger said. "Jails these days have become mental health facilities because most of the mental health facilities are either closed or overcrowded."

Last year, Dillinger started Jail Diversion in Pinellas using a $1 million federal grant.

The program helps mentally ill defendants find treatment and services while their cases wind through the courts. To be eligible, a defendant must be diagnosed with a serious mental health condition.

Duncan McCormack, who runs the program in Pinellas, said another goal of the arrangement is to help defendants find treatment once their cases are resolved.

Many times, treatment and medications stabilize the mentally ill and keep them from re-entering the legal system.

So far, he said, the program has worked. In Pinellas, it has served more than 550 defendants, and 203 have completed the program, meaning ideally they are off probation and back in society. Many remaining defendants are still in treatment.

...The program also keeps the mentally ill out of county jails, which are not equipped or staffed to treat such inmates, thereby easing jail overcrowding.

Pasco officials said they would welcome the program. Billy Major, a social worker who works with the public defender's office in Pasco, estimated that as many as 44 percent of jail inmates take medication for mental afflictions.

Most common, Major said, are bipolar disorder and depression."


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