Sunday, November 19, 2017
Health

Nowhere to go: A judge and family members try to keep a mentally ill man from dying behind bars

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Robert Valdez is 71 years old and mentally ill. He's never had much trouble with the law — until he set a neighbor's shed on fire in 2014. Something was going on inside his head.

It had been years since he had seen a psychiatrist for his condition. Were his medications still working?

No one seemed to know, and Florida's criminal justice system was not set up to figure out what was wrong. It was designed to get him to court, mete out his punishment, to bring his case to a close. If that meant prison, so be it.

Experts say incarcerating the mentally ill just makes them worse. And yet, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the state's 100,000-plus inmates have a mental illness.

If someone didn't intervene, Robert was sure to join them.

Read Part 5 of our series on the chaos in Florida's mental hospital system to find out how things turned out for Robert Valdez. And catch up on previous installments in this series at tampabay.com/mentalhospitals.

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