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In Miami-Dade, a call to treat the mentally ill instead of jailing them


Leaders of Miaim-Dade justice system held a media event Wednesday touting the need to treat mentally-ill offenders rather than jailing them.

County jails are housing mentally-ill people "for lack of a better place to put them. And it's at a staggering cost to us as a community and the poor souls who are succumbing to this," County Commissioner Sally Heyman said at the start of a program that included an 11-persona panel discussion on mental illness and incarceration.

The event was part of a national push for more mental-health services in correctional systems. Called the Stepping Up Initiative, it will culminate in a national summit in the spring of 2016 on the topic. 

Miami-Dade's correctional system is under federal supervision for past staffing shortages and operational missteps. The county is in the process of opening a new facility aimed at people with mental illness who get caught up in the law-enforcement system. It will include treatment facilities, vocational programs and short-term housing. 

About 2,500 of Miami-Dade's 4,500 inmates have some sort of mental condition, said Marydell Guevara, director of the county's correctional department. "The ones that don't belong in jail need to go somewhere to get help," she said.