Assessing gaps in the local criminal justice system
Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant and County Court Judge Robert Landt listen during presentation by Rhonda Harvey of SMA Healthcare during a PSCC meeting held Jan. 23, 2024. [Ocala Gazette]
Rhonda Harvey, of behavioral services provider SMA Healthcare, told the Public Safety Coordinating Council in a presentation on Jan. 23 that it was time for the county to revisit a strategic plan that could arm key stakeholders in the criminal justice, behavioral healthcare, primary healthcare, and human services systems with information for greater success.
According to Harvey’s presentation, the goal of the workshop model is to coordinate and conduct Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM) to identify how individuals with mental and substance use disorders come into contact with and move through the criminal justice system; identify resources and gaps in services at each contact point, and then come up with a strategic plan locally.
Harvey pointed out in her presentation that the last time this was done, the mental health court was established in Marion County.
Ideally, the goal of initiatives such as this, according to Harvey, is to help Marion County residents experiencing mental health and/or substance use issues find “more appropriate treatment in lieu of incarceration or going deeper in the legal system.”
While these measures can save lives, Harvey also pointed to the practical considerations to factor in such as “cost savings” between “treating individuals in the community” instead of housing them in the criminal justice system.
Cathy Wyckoff, a local resident and activist for the homeless and criminal justice reform, spoke in support of the initiative. Wyckoff has repeatedly pointed out to public officials the high rate of recidivism in Marion County, which she said consists of a lot of homeless or mentally ill persons. She passed out a list to the council showing the names of inmates who had been jailed more than 50 times in Marion County, based on data she had received from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in September 2023.
The “Gazette” has reported recently how one mentally ill inmate without a criminal history, James Whitley, died in Marion County jail a little more than a year ago seemingly due to a gap in services that would have provided treatment to the psychiatric patient instead of a jail cell without clothing, bedding or medication.
Harvey indicated that if the initial “planning grant” was awarded, opportunities could become available for future grant applications up to $400,000 a year for three years to implement services to address some or all of the gaps identified in planning.
A grant of $100,000 is available to pay for mapping out this strategy from the Florida Department of Children and Family Services. It requires a match, but also for the Public Safety Coordinating Council to oversee compliance with the grant process.
The local Public Safety Coordinating Council is established by the Marion County Board of Commissioners under §951.26, F.S.
The PSCC consists of representatives from all aspects of the criminal justice system, including the state attorney’s office, law enforcement, probation officers, and members of the judiciary and court administration.
One of the requirements of the grant that SMA is applying for is that the PSCC makeup includes specific representatives from a cross-section of stakeholders, such as the local police department, a director of a mental health agency, a representative of the Florida Department of Children and Families substance abuse and mental health program, at least two primary consumers of mental health or substance abuse services, a family member of a primary mental health consumer, a representative from an area homeless program, the director of the detention center, and the chief probation officer for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
The PSCC agreed to accommodate the additional required members in order to facilitate the grant.
All meetings of the PSCC, as well as its records, books, documents, and papers, are open and available to the public.
Harvey said SMA will apply for the grant in consultation with PSCC, “ensure planning activities are implemented,” employ a Project Director, collect and maintain data, and manage the grant reports to the Department of Children and Families.