Sarasota County Judge Erika Quartermaine headed up a group comprising judicial and law enforcement leaders, along with the CEO of a nonprofit organization, to create the proposal
“We got the grant!” was the subject line in the Oct. 19 email that went to a multitude of Sarasota city and county government leaders, as well as 12th Judicial Circuit Court officials.
The communication from Sarasota County Judge Erika Quartermaine announced that the local proposal for a Comprehensive Treatment Court had not only won the $1.2 million in state grant funds that had been sought but also that the application was ranked No. 1 in Florida among those submitted for the funding.
Quartermaine offered “[s]pecial thanks to the grant writers, … at Centerstone as well as everyone who contributed.”
Centerstone is the nonprofit organization that will provide services to people willing to participate in the Comprehensive Treatment Court.
The Florida Department of Children and Families — through which the funds were awarded — hopes to make the grants available as of Jan. 1, 2017, Quartermaine added in her email.
Over a period of three years, she pointed out, Sarasota is going to have a total of $2.4 million for use in addressing the needs “of the seriously mentally who are in the criminal justice system, most of whom are homeless.”
The state grant of $400,000 per year for three years has been matched by the City and County of Sarasota and nonprofit foundations in the community.
During presentations this spring to the City and County commissions, Quartermaine said she believes 80 to 120 people per year can be helped. Modeled after a program in Miami-Dade County, the Comprehensive Treatment Court would help people with mental health issues who are arrested repeatedly. Since the program went into effect in Miami-Dade, she told the County Commission in April, the recidivism rate for arrestees with serious mental illnesses — such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — has dropped from 76 percent to 20 percent.
Instead of spending as much as three weeks in jail, she continued in her April 27 presentation, an individual could be released in a maximum of three business days, though the hope is that that period can be reduced to one day. The person would be released to Centerstone, whose staff would create a case plan, including the provision of medication or therapy. The goal would be to stabilize the person and then establish a long-term plan that would include housing or a return to a family setting, as well as the potential for the person being able to find employment. “And then the charges would be dismissed,” she said.
In her Oct. 19 email, Quartermaine added, “This is such an amazing gift to our community and we need to continue to work together to make it the most effective. I will be in touch over the coming months as we learn more about timing and get closer to implementation.”
Quartermaine explained to the City Commission in May that representatives of the State Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices; Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight; Chief Judge Charles Williams of the 12th Judicial Circuit; Walt Smith, the administrator of the courts; and Mary Ruiz, the CEO of Centerstone, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining how the program will function.