New York — The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation has announced grants to two community partners that will help people with serious mental illnesses (SMI) involved in the criminal justice system successfully return to society.
South Florida Behavioral Health Network (SFBHN), Miami, Fla., will receive $1.23 million over three years to develop, implement and evaluate a first-of-its-kind Coordinated System of Care for individuals with SMI in the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
SFBHN will partner with the Miami-Dade Chapter of Florida Partners in Crisis, the 11th Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project, the Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida and the American Psychiatric Foundation to bring a coordinated, evidence-based approach to mental health services for individuals who experience chronic and persistent SMI, and who demonstrate moderate to high risk of ongoing involvement in the justice system and acute care settings.
Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation, Auburn, Wash., will receive $1.11 million over two years to develop, implement and evaluate a Forensic Mental Health Peer Support program designed to decrease recidivism among adults convicted of misdemeanors and address the re-entry needs of people with SMI who are leaving the local jail in King County, Washington. Valley Cities will train peer specialists with histories of mental illness and criminal justice system involvement to help others with similar experiences.
Based on the fact that two-thirds of the high users of King County jails are adults with SMI, and two-thirds of these individuals are detained for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, developing community support programs that keep these individuals out of jail is a key priority. The peer support program will provide these individuals with practical assistance and a support system that will help them successfully return to their community and stop cycling through the justice system. Valley Cities will be the first to fully develop a curriculum and evaluate the outcomes of the Forensic Peer Support Model, which could serve as an evidence-based resource used in city and county jails across the country.
"Individuals with serious mental illness are twice as likely to fail on traditional community supervision compared with individuals without mental illness, and there are few existing community supports tailored to the unique needs of this vulnerable population," says John Damonti, president, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and vice president, Corporate Philanthropy, Bristol-Myers Squibb. "These individuals need a safety net. By providing them with support and tools to avoid another crisis and progress toward their recovery goals in the community, we hope to stop this downward spiral."
As the number of people with SMI who are incarcerated across the United States has grown, mental health advocates such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others have, for years, been demanding better treatment of this population. Over the past 50 years, the number of psychiatric hospital beds in the U.S. has decreased 90 percent while the number of people with mental illness in prisons and jails has increased 400 percent. This leads us to the current reality where today more Americans with mental illnesses are treated in correctional facilities than in psychiatric hospitals; a situation that has significant financial and social ramifications across the country.
Florida, for example, spends about $600 million a year—$1.6 million per day—to house people with mental illness in state prisons and forensic treatment facilities. The Miami-Dade County Jail is the largest psychiatric institution in Florida, spending an estimated $60 million each year to house people with mental illnesses.
One in seven males (14.5 percent) and three in 10 females (31 percent) serving time in the Miami-Dade jail experience serious mental illnesses. Among those who are the heaviest users of mental health care, the typical inmate in the Miami-Dade jail has been arrested 22 times over the past five years and spent 275 days behind bars during that period.