The judge spearheading a project to end the homeless-to-prison cycle confirmed that the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery will open this year.
The pioneering facility aims to be a one-stop shop for primary care and psychiatric services for homeless people with serious mental illnesses who are in or are at risk of entering the criminal justice system.
Miami-Dade County spends $232 million annually to house 2,400 people with mental illnesses, making the county jail the largest psychiatric institution in Florida. The new center serves as a diversion and treatment program to address critical needs that are not being met, reducing recidivism rates and saving millions of tax dollars.
11th Circuit Court Judge Steve Leifman, who is behind the idea, told Miami TODAY that the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery will open this year. The center is working with the City of Miami to expedite the permitting process.
“We are hopeful that within the next three to six weeks we will have a provisional certificate of occupancy,” he said.
Construction of the center at 2200 NW Seventh Avenue is nearly complete. The site will offer primary health, dental, vision and podiatry clinics. It also offers residential treatment, transitional housing, and outpatient behavioral health care.
The new facility is to provide 208 beds, an indoor basketball gym, a library, vocational rehabilitation, educational services and a culinary arts training program. The center is partnering with Workforce Florida and Miami Dade College to identify additional employment opportunities so individuals can become self-sufficient.
A courtroom will be located within the building, as well as space for legal and social service agencies. The center has a capital budget of $51.1 million – $43.1 million from the county’s Building Better Communities general obligation bonds and $8 million from Jackson Health.
Columbia University and the University of Miami will lead research at the center in hopes of creating a blueprint that other communities can follow to help eliminate the complex problems resulting from inadequate care for mentally ill and homeless populations.
Judge Leifman conceived of the project 20 years ago. In 2000, he heard a case involving a Harvard-educated psychiatrist who worked at Jackson Memorial Hospital and had early onset schizophrenia. The psychiatrist became homeless and began cycling through the criminal justice system for minor offenses.
“Unfortunately, in Florida, if you are declared incapacitated on a misdemeanor, the court loses jurisdiction and authority to hospitalize, treat, or restore you to competency. Therefore, my only option is to get him back on the road. had to leave, which was very disappointing,” explained the judge.
Judge Leifman said, “As a result of his case, we had a summit that year and we mapped the intersection between the criminal justice system and the community mental health system.”
After stakeholders and experts saw how dysfunctional the system was, they formed the 11th Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project, which sought massive structural change through a two-part approach consisting of pre-arrest and post-arrest diversion programs .
“Since the pre-arrest diversion program began, we have trained over 8,000 police officers across all 36 departments in Miami-Dade County and the results have been amazing,” Mr. Leifman said.
The pre-arrest program reduced annual arrests in the county by more than 50%, from 118,000 to 53,000. As a result, the inmate population decreased and the county closed one of the three main jails, saving $12 million per year.
Two post-arrest diversion programs were also started to screen arrestees who meet the criteria, allow them early release from prison, and provide a support system and services to help with recovery.
Judge Leifman said, “The misdemeanor recidivism rate went down from 75% to about 20%, and it worked so well that the state’s attorney worked with us to expand it to non-violent felony cases.”
Participants who complete the felony program — about 70% — have a recidivism rate of only 6%.
Judge Leifman said the county has done a good job with the homeless population, but about 1,100 live on the street, most of whom have serious mental illnesses that have not been properly treated.
Judge Leifman said, “We believe this facility will help us get as close to eliminating our homelessness as we will ever be able to.” “It will substantially reduce the prison population of people with mental illnesses so that we can save the county and taxpayers millions of dollars.”