Repeatedly Jailing the Same Mentally Ill People Costs Broward County Millions of Dollars

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Jail overcrowding is an ongoing problem in Broward County to the extent that some inmates sleep on plastic “sleds” because there aren’t enough beds to go around.

One possible solution? Stop jailing mentally ill people.

That’s the answer proposed by the Broward Sheriff's Office after crunching the numbers and finding that the same 100 people keep returning to jail again and again. Each of those individuals, who were flagged as having serious enough issues to warrant a bed in the Mental Health Unit, has been booked into jail an average of 34 times and has spent an average of 1,849 days — the equivalent of five years — in custody.

Collectively, those 100 individuals alone have spent a total of roughly 185,000 days in custody over their lifetimes and account for 3,396 total bookings into the Broward County jail system. According to David Scharf, the executive director of BSO’s department of community programs, that’s costing the county a lot of money — $22 million altogether, based on the current costs of incarcerating one individual, which is estimated to be $116-$120 per day.

Scharf says the BSO has applied for state funding to open a central receiving facility for people with behavioral issues where they could get access to social services rather than being booked straight into jail.

“The basic premise is to intervene early on in the process and appropriately divert individuals from the criminal justice system by providing needed assessments, services, beds, and more long term solutions,” he explains.

Of course, this won’t solve the underlying problem: Clearly, if people with mental health issues had better access to counseling and treatment, they wouldn't be getting arrested at such an alarmingly high rate. But if the county’s largest law enforcement agency is admitting that there are too many mentally ill people in jail, that’s a good start.

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