Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lawmakers have neglected mentally ill

Letter to the Editor (St. Petersburg Times)
Published November 28, 2006

Mentally ill people in jails

Thank you for bringing the plight of this most vulnerable group of people to the attention of everyone. I am the executive director of a nonprofit agency that has provided treatment and rehabilitation since 1988 for these individuals who are currently in jail as a result of their mental illness. These men and women are in desperate need of an advocate as their voices are not being heard.

It would not serve them to jail the head of the state Department of Children and Families. Rather it draws attention away from the ongoing issue, which is the closing of our state mental hospital, G. Pierce Wood in Arcadia. The mentally ill now live in alleys, under bridges and on park benches throughout the state. The closing of hospitals such as this one are in direct relation to the dramatic rise in the homeless population.

The Legislature in its haste to "do something" has created a maelstrom statewide by not providing for the ongoing needs and services that are required to support this population. As a result of legislative inaction for the past several years, we have created local unfunded mandates to provide mental health services in our county jails.

These mentally ill people are not getting better. They will not make the transition back into our communities without treatment, and they will continue to cycle through arrest, incarceration, jail and back to the street, on and on, unless we provide residential settings for them.

When the state's lawmakers cut the funding in 2005 to this population, they created an environment that is dangerous to those individuals and the community.

Sara Romeo, executive director, Tampa Crossroads Inc., Tampa

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