Program aims to reduce number of mentally ill chronic offenders in Duval County jail

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mental Health Offender Program is designed to reduce the number of mentally ill people who end up in jail on misdemeanor charges. Chief Judge Mark Mahon of the 4th judicial circuit, which includes Duval County, explained how the program works in an interview Tuesday on The Morning Show.

Mahon said jails have become the largest mental health facility in the community, despite a widespread belief that those with mental illness do not belong behind bars.

“With that end, the Sheriff’s Office and the city got together to look at those individuals that get chronically arrested in the community and are chronically taxed on their resources and see if there is a way we can try and solve this problem,” Mahon said.

Mahon said the Sheriff’s Office identified about 225 people who are chronically arrested for petty crimes.

“It is not necessarily because they are criminals but because they have ongoing untreated mental health issues,” Mahon said. “To this end again, the sheriff, the city looked at this problem and said, ‘There needs to be a better way to try and solve this.’”

The solution was the MHOP program, which flags these individuals when they’re arrested on new charges and pulls them out to divert their case into a treatment program instead of the traditional court system.

“We try to get them services where they get stabilized, some type of housing, where we try to get them out of this cycle where they continually get arrested, get released, get arrested, and rearrested,” Mahon said.

To hear more about the program, watch the video at the top of this article to see Mahon’s full interview.

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