On any given morning, some 25 percent of inmates in the Martin County Jail line up to receive their meds.
“I have the biggest mental health facility in the county,” said Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, who wishes it were otherwise.
“A lot of them aren’t really criminals. Maybe they went off their meds and hit somebody in the head with a brick, or were picked up begging outside Walmart,” he said. “They keep offending and reoffending, they get enough points, and now they’re in prison.” And that costs taxpayers about $105 a day.
Snyder and other Martin County officials figure there’s got to be a better way.
And in recent months, they’ve been trying to figure out exactly what that “better way” might look like.
Martin County’s problem is America’s problem. Last summer, The Atlantic Monthly reported that at least 400,000 inmates now behind bars in the United States suffer from some type of mental illness. And the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that between 25 and 40 percent of all mentally ill Americans will be incarcerated at some point in their lives.
Often, they’re poor.
Some who work with the homeless — many of whom are homeless because of mental illness — are nonetheless exhilarated to hear county officials talking about it.
“This is a blessing beyond any expectation,” said Bob Durst of Can We Help Inc., a Stuart-based charity that ministers to the homeless. “There’s a crying need for a facility like this.”