DCF Press Release

State of Florida
Department of Children and Families
Charlie Crist

Robert A. Butterworth

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Media Contact: Sarrah Troncoso
November 14, 2007 850-488-4855

"Transforming Florida's Mental Health System" Report Released
~ Report on mental health system expected to make changes in Florida ~

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. - Department of Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth joined Governor Charlie Crist, Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis and Special Advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health, Judge Steven Leifman today to review the initial findings of the Mental Health Subcommittee's evaluation of Florida's mental health and criminal justice systems. The subcommittee, led by Leifman, released its report "Transforming Florida's Mental Health System" which highlights disparities in Florida's coordination of services for persons with mental illness and recommends strategies to improve our state's mental health system.

"We have a responsibility to support and care for the most vulnerable among us, and at the same time, ensure the safety of our communities while also being good stewards of taxpayer dollars - the people's money," said Governor Crist. "Addressing the needs of individuals with mental illness requires that every branch of government come together to create solutions, while always keeping our focus on the people whose lives will be touched by those solutions."

The Council of State Governments selected and funded Leifman's review based on the unity expressed by the judicial, legislative and executive branches in Florida to improve the state's mental health system. The report is an extensive review of how the needs of persons with mental illness are not addressed in Florida's current social service systems, courts, jails and prisons. These gaps in service were seen in late 2006 when the Department of Children and Families was sued for failing to place individuals with mental illness in an appropriate forensic treatment setting within 15 days as statute requires.

A resolution was reached under the leadership of Secretary Butterworth when the Department, Public Defenders throughout the state and other mental health advocates aggressively pursued placement for patients on the waiting list and launched several pilot projects to provide treatment options for persons with mental illness before they commit serious crimes. In January, the legislature appropriated more than $16 million dollars to provide immediate help. Within four months, the waiting list for a forensic placement dropped to zero.

"Judge Leifman bravely stepped up to find answers to the problems plaguing our mental health system and I thank him for that," said Secretary Butterworth. "He's exactly right that treatment for these vulnerable individuals must cross agency lines. We owe it to the people we're here to serve and to our fellow state agencies to build the strongest service system we can provide."

Approximately 125,000 people with serious mental illness are booked into Florida jails annually. This creates a backlog in the criminal justice system delaying actions of the police, courts, and correctional systems. The subcommittee was charged with identifying best practices to improve mental health services and ways to enhance communication among agencies that should be working together to address the needs of Floridians with mental illness. For more information about the programs and services offered by the Florida Department of Children and Families, visit www.state.fl.us/cf_web/.


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