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…