Conference on Criminal Justice Mental Health and Substance Abuse Reinvestment Act
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07/24/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

A two-day conference began today in Tampa for counties that are trying to reduce the number of people with mental health and substance abuse issues who get trapped in the criminal justice system. The Conference helps counties implement programs funded by the Criminal Justice Mental Health and Substance Abuse Reinvestment Act, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2007.

The Reinvestment Act will allow counties to address the problem of mental illness in the criminal justice system. That’s according to John Petrila, a Professor in Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida’s Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute.

Petrila is also the director of USF’s Criminal Justice, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Technical Assistance Center that works with county governments, including the counties of Hillsborough and Pinellas, which have received grants through the program. Petrila said that the Reinvestment program seeks to strike a balance with treatment and public safety.

Ellen Piekalkiewicz is the Executive Director of the Florida Substance Abuse and Mental Health Corporation, the group that is responsible for overseeing and disbursing the 3.8 million dollars in state funds from the Reinvestment Grant to the counties. There are two types of grants, planning and implementation. Counties have to match 100% of the state grant of up to one million dollars for the three-year implementation grant, Piekalkiewicz said.

Piekalkiwcz said that implementing programs through the Reinvestment Grant will save money when compared to locking up people with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Another benefit is that intervention programs work better than jails, Piekalkiewicz said.

Last year, the Supreme Court issued a report warning that jails have become the largest mental health care providers in many communities. Steve Leifman is the Special Advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health to the Supreme Court of Florida.

Fred Osher is the Director of Health Services and Systems Policy at the Council of State Governments, a national organization representing Legislators, governors and chief justices. Osher said people with substance abuse and mental health issues should get treatment instead of going to jail.

Eleven years ago, the country’s first Mental Health Court was opened in Broward County. Their purpose is to remove people with mental health concerns from the criminal justice system in order for them to get needed assistance. WMNF asked USF’s John Petrila whether Mental Health Courts would make sense in the Tampa Bay area.

The conference will conclude on Friday at the Embassy Suites Hotel on Westshore Boulevard in Tampa. One focus will be on Juvenile Justice – Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman, Jr. will be the noontime keynote speaker.

Florida Substance Abuse and Mental Health Corporation

Previous WMNF coverage on Supreme Court report

Previous WMNF coverage of Mental Health Courts

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

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