Florida Spends Millions to Teach Mentally Ill How to Appear in Court and be Convicted

Friday, December 25, 2015
Florida training video for the mentally ill (photo: State of Florida)

Florida’s system for preparing mentally ill defendants for criminal court is “the definition of insanity,” according to a former state Cabinet officer.


Each year, the state spends at least $50 million coaching those with mental health issues on how to appear in court so that they can be deemed competent to stand trial. The cost per patient averages $53,000, according to an investigation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Tampa Bay Times.


For this investment, the result usually is a conviction, though most nonviolent offenders never spend a day in prison.


They do wind up spending weeks, sometimes months, in mental hospitals getting medicated and coached while living among violent offenders. What they don’t get is “therapy or long-term support to help them manage their illnesses,” Michael Braga, Anthony Cormier and Leonora LaPeter Anton wrote.


Defendants are shown videos resembling game shows where court concepts such as a bailiff and juries are discussed. There are mock trials where patients can see how a trial works and quizzes on the process. When they’re deemed able to understand the process, defendants are returned to jail. There, they often lose access to the medication that made them lucid enough to appear in court. That can cause them to begin the process over for subsequent court appearances.


Many of them end up spending more time locked up than their sentence would be. “It’s the definition of insanity,” George Sheldon, who oversaw Florida’s state-funded mental hospitals from 2008 to 2010 as secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, told the newspapers. “The majority of defendants are picked up for crimes that escalate from a misdemeanor. They get released, then they go off their meds and rotate right back into the system.”


One patient was still being held eight months after he was caught sleeping in the back of someone’s car and stealing 97 cents from the dashboard. Another was committed to a state hospital for months after shoplifting three shirts.


Although the state spends millions on attempting to make the mentally ill able to stand trial, it’s more parsimonious with other mental health spending. Florida is 49th in the country in funding for mental health and only five states have fewer psychiatric beds per capita.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Definition of Insanity (by Michael Braga, Anthony Cormier and Leonora LaPeter Anton, Tampa Bay Times)

ACLU Lawsuit Accuses the State of “Warehousing” Mentally Ill in Jails (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


Cameo 8 years ago
These insidious and cruel competence training programs are done in accordance with the Supreme Court's restrictions on the administration of antipsychotic meds for the purpose of competency restoration(an abusive and sham legal construct). The Supreme Court has also left it up to the states to determine what constitutes "Insanity". Both legal constructs are in profound dissonance with the brain diseases that cause them and few people stop to question this. In a world were very few people comprehend psychosis correctly - as a severe disorder of waking consciousness, jurors are left to make judgements on brain diseases that only a medical doctor is qualified to diagnose -why, because "Insanity" is disconnected from what actually causes it. The more profound the incomprehension of psychosis by the public, legislators, medical practitioners, quack "forensic" psychologists, prosecutors, and judges, the more successful the war on the insanity defense. Juries make intuitive, not insightful comprehending verdicts of NGRI -and usually only when violence is interfamilial (where they use instictive language such as 'you have to be crazy to do something like...) In this nation, hundreds of thousands of people who could not control their actions are being punished and even put to death because of the ignorance of the masses and the inability to accept the horrible reality that a small subset of people in the throes of severe psychosis can commit violent acts - and not out of guilty mind (mens rea)

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