OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla.- A Dade County judge with experience in mental health law, visited the chambers of the Okaloosa County commission to present his successful plan to county elected officials.
Judge Steven Leifman fought to open a mental health diversion program, which treated the mentally ill who had been charged with minor violations of the law. After beginning the program, the number of mentally ill housed in jails was greatly reduced over a decade-long period.
Okaloosa County suffers from overcrowding in its jail. Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel believes the mental health diversion program would help reduce costs overall by lowering the number of people repeatedly incarcerated at great cost to the county government.
“I’m very encouraged that I am hearing consensus among all of the commissioners, the mental health association and the Okaloosa bar. What we need is a summit to address the needs of the mentally ill, which we are finding out is more than 50% of the jails population,” she said.
The jail was built to house 594 prisoners but currently houses more than 730.