Commissioners debate better treatment for mentally ill inmates

It costs $60 million each year to keep mentally ill in Miami-Dade County jails

MIAMI - Miami-Dade commissioners on Wednesday debated ways to treat mentally ill inmates better at lower costs.

Nearly 400 severely mentally ill inmates are housed in the old pre-trial detention center in Miami. Another 1,000 less seriously mentally ill are scattered throughout the county jail system.

"We are the largest facility -- our corrections facilities, venues -- for housing mentally ill. That's not our charge, and if you ask the Department of Justice, that's our problem," said Commissioner Sally Heyman.

The federal government has told Miami-Dade County it needs to fix the issue. One possible solution: opening the Mental Health Diversion Center on Northwest 7th Avenue, which used to be a state forensic hospital but was turned over to the county to house mentally ill inmates in 2007.

"The facility itself would not be large enough to take care of the inmate population that corrections had nor take care of the forensic needs of the community," said Deputy Miami-Dade Mayor Genaro Iglesias.

Reopening the shuttered facility would be costly, but the state would pick up the cost of incarcerating the mentally ill inmates and Washington would pay their medical bills. Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya said prescription costs for inmates is $800,000.

"The average inmate is $142, but because of mental illness status, they're required -- our corrections personnel -- to make a visual every 15 minutes," said Heyman. "Plus the medication and the special eye observation for all the mentally ill -- averaging over $1,200 a day."

It costs $60 million a year to keep the mentally ill in Miami-Dade County jails.

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