Frank Ewere

Staff Writer


Florida Southern College is hosting a conference which will attempt to examine the criminal justice system and its relation to people with mental health issues.

The Mental Health Conference is hosted by the Criminology and Sociology departments on April 12 in the Christoverson Humanities Building from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A variety of speakers are coming in to present, as well as FSC students presenting their own research.

“I am personally hoping that this conference will continue to spread the word and increase awareness about mental illness,” Professor of Criminology Dr. Risdon Slate said. “The media covers all the bad things, but there is going to be a positive community-type message coming out this conference.”

A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues.

There are varying levels of severity amongst those with illnesses, but mental health officials say that with proper treatment many incarcerations can be prevented.

“I saw what type of programming people need after leaving prison and I just became aware of how little they were treated while they were incarcerated,” Assistant Professor of Criminology Lisa Carter said. “It is a prevalent concern because if people are coming back having little help while they’re incarcerated, what’s their re-entry process going to be like? It’s just going to be a revolving door for them.”

According to recent statistics from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, only Texas ranks lower than Florida in terms of funding towards mental health programs. Without adequate facilities, there is an increased risk for those suffering from mental illnesses.

NAMI’s 2013 State Legislation Report states that provisions of the Affordable Care Act are set to take effect in 2014 and much of the 2013 legislative sessions were attempting to expand Medicaid under this law. Medicaid expansion has the potential to offer coverage to an estimated 2.7 million uninsured people affected by mental illness.

In all 50 states under the Affordable Care Act an estimated 2.65 million people with mental illnesses will qualify for appropriations to buy private health insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplaces during the initial six month enrollment period which opened Oct 1, 2013.

“I think there is a lack of access to adequate treatment and care in this country,” Slate said.  “However, I think with the Affordable Care Act one thing they’ve done is emphasize parity. Mental health being covered on par with physical health and I think that it goes along with sending a message to the general public that mental health is no different from physical health. It’s all one body.”

As well as additional funding and attention to national mental health problems, a $2 million appropriation brought some relief in providing mental health services in Lakeland for the Peace River Center last year.

However, for some the extra funding comes too late. The Jeanene Brown Drop In Center in Lakeland closed at the end of June 2013. The center provided a place for mental health clients to mingle with people as part of their recovery, but cutbacks in state funding required the closing. And yet even with these setbacks, the mental health issue is still addressed.

“I think with we’re coming to a point where we need to address this because there are major issues that are going on,” Assistant Professor of Sociology Chastity Blankenship said. “As society continues to grow and as more people feel out of place in society through a variety of reasons, there’s no social norm anymore about how a person should act so we’re seeing just a greater diversity in terms of lifestyles and potential outcomes. And I think that becoming more aware of issues regarding mental illness and addressing them only serves to understand those lifestyles and potential outcomes.”

Slate says that individuals from Crisis Prevention Teen Training as well as individuals affiliated with the Sheriff’s office and the Peace River Center will come in and provide some examples of what they do with their training of law enforcement officers in terms of dealing with persons with mental illnesses.

However, the Mental Health Conference will not only address the stigmas surrounding mental health and its relation to mental health, but Carter also says this is an opportunity for the students to network with individuals in their respective fields and understand how they can use their skills for a higher purpose. Blankenship  believes this as well.

“In the classroom, it becomes me preaching and I feel like it can be very one sided,” Blankenship said. “So I think that by bringing members of the community that deal with these issues on a regular basis and are face to face with it real world connections can be made by having people come in from the community rather than from an instructor’s perspective.”