Treating mentally ill criminals: 'Our hands are tied' - KMSP-TV

Treating mentally ill criminals: 'Our hands are tied'

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

When it comes to helping mentally ill criminals get treatment, Florida is at the bottom.

"We're last in the country for mental health funding," stated Bob Dillinger, the public defender for Pinellas and Pasco counties. "Actually we are 51st in per-capita spending behind not only every state but Puerto Rico as well. We have not taken a proactive approach in Florida."

But there's another problem in the courts as well, which can be traced back to the way the law is written. If a mentally incompetent person commits a crime, the judge cannot force that person into treatment if the crime is a misdemeanor.

"Pretty much, our hands are tied," lamented J. Thomas McGrady, the chief judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit serving Pinellas and Pasco. "You basically can't punish a person who is not competent to know their punishment or crime. We can suggest they go to jail diversion or other treatment, but we can't force them to and we can't allow the criminal charge to proceed against them and so they're released."

There are plenty of cases that fall into this category, like Charles Allen Grant. The St. Petersburg 53-year-old has been arrested dozens of times and each time is quickly right back on the street because his crimes are misdemeanors and the court psychologist found him to be incompetent.

"It's difficult. Mr. Grant's situation is not unique," said Judge Paul Levine.

Grant has appeared before the Pinellas County judge many times and each time Judge Levine has no choice but to let him go.

"It's tough to tell a victim, 'Ma'am or sir, there is nothing I can do for you if it's a misdemeanor except release the person and hope it doesn't happen again, which I don't think is a good solution.'"

So what about using Florida's Baker Act? That only applies if the suspect is an immediate threat to themselves or others.


FOX 13 caught up with Charles Grant on the streets of St. Petersburg and showed him more than a dozen arrest reports documenting his actions, which included public intoxication, drug possession, misuse of 911, disorderly conduct, spitting on person, screaming racial epithets, and resisting arrest.

"What's happen is slander, defamation of character, invasion of privacy. That's all fabricated," Grant insisted.

Dr. Jill Poorman is the court-appointed psychologist for the 6th Judicial Circuit and has evaluated Grant more than 15 times and found him to be incompetent and suffering from schizophrenia.

Like Judges McGrady and Levine, she could not talk directly about Grant's case but sees a clear problem.

"I've seen some people 40 or 50 times and I don't get a lot of cooperation from the incompetent individual," said Poorman. "It would be nice if we could be proactive instead of reactive."

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