Scott backs mental health changes for courts

NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill on March 25 that supporters said will help the court system address issues with criminal defendants who have mental illnesses.

Lawmakers unanimously approved the measure (HB 439), sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

“Many people with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness end up in our jails and prisons. They don’t belong there,’’ Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement about the bill last week. “With the proper treatment they could not only alleviate the already over-crowded corrections system, but also be productive members of society.”

The bill makes a series of changes and could lead to counties establishing treatment-based mental health court programs. Among other things, it would expand eligibility for veterans’ courts, which can help lead to military veterans receiving treatment for mental-health or substance-abuse issues.

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