Bill Proposes Restoration Care to Treat Inmates in County Jail

February 10, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

What Does it Say?

This week, the Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee voted in favor of HB 1249, titled “Treatment of Defendants Adjudicated Incompetent to Stand Trial.” The bill, spearheaded by Representative Jenna Persons-Mulicka of Fort Myers, would allow individuals who are adjudicated as incompetent to receive mental health treatment inside of county jails, rather than at a state hospital. This kind of treatment is referred to as “restoration care,” and under the bill, would permit the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to provide this kind of care to inmates “in any facility it deems appropriate.” Specifically, the bill amends Section 916.106 of the Florida Statutes to revise the term “forensic facility” to include “a facility serving forensic clients committed to the department which is collocated in county jail and operated by a community mental health provider through a contract.” 

The idea that Florida’s jails and prisons are not “designed, equipped, or funded to deal with serious mental illness” is nothing new. This unfortunate reality was at the root of the creation of Florida’s mental health courts, which often order offenders to attend treatment facilities for their mental health issues instead of incarcerating them. HB 1249 would help to ensure that those individuals who are incarcerated and are deemed incompetent because of their mental health issues are afforded the proper care in a timely manner. As Representative Persons-Mulicka stated, “there could be a significant wait list for our defendants…who have been adjudicated incompetent. This bill simply seeks to provide DCF with another option.” If you would like to read more about Florida’s mental health courts and their benefits, you can do so here.

Restorative Justice

Although it may seem like a progressive idea to many, restoration care under this bill falls under the longstanding concept of restorative justice. Restorative justice, according to the Insight Prison Project, emphasizes:

The importance of working with prisoners and their victims in a way that promotes healing and encourages reconciliation, elevating the role of crime victims and community members in the process, holding prisoners directly accountable to the people whom they violated, enabling prisoners to have access to transformative programs while incarcerated, restoring the emotional and material losses of victims, and providing a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation, and problem solving, whenever possible, that can lead to a greater sense of community safety, conflict resolution, and closure for all involved.

SB 1600 

Although the bill received no pushback from the subcommittee, its companion bill, SB 1600, resulted in significant debate. SB 1600 also provides that a forensic client who is being held in jail awaiting admission to a DCF facility and who is likely to regain competence to proceed may receive treatment at any facility designed by the department. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jennifer Bradley of Orange Park with the intention of “significantly reduc[ing] delay in treatment, [which] will reduce the possibility that the patient will deteriorate further while awaiting treatment [while] keep[ing] the patient in the community.”

Conflict Arises

Pushback came from public defenders who argue that jails are not the appropriate setting for individuals with serious mental illness to get treatment. Seventh Circuit Public Defender Matthew Metz explained his weariness when it comes to the bills and how they might do more harm than good, stating “we’re going to have folks who shouldn’t be in jail at all going to jail, and those folks who may need longer treatment, who should be in hospitals, are going to be in the system, a place that is really not set up to hold them.” Instead, Metz believes the correct answer is to allocate more resources to DCF that allow more work to be done inside state hospitals as they are the setting that best helps restore an individual to competency, rather than permit them to do work outside of them. Others argue the bill is a good start in tackling the ever-present issue that incarcerated individuals are not receiving the mental health treatment they need due to extended wait times. It is important to note that Bradley addressed these worries by specifying that “the department would not put the most seriously ill suspects in jail-based forensic units” as this measure would “be targeted to the lower acuity patients.”

Ultimately, both advocates and opponents to the bills make valid arguments, but with 548 suspects currently awaiting beds in the three psychiatric hospitals and three contracted treatment centers within the state, it is evident that something must be done to tackle the problem. As the bills face additional committee hearings, only time will tell if they are the best way to solve Florida’s deeply troubling issues when it comes to providing mental health treatment to suspects.

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

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