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Does Florida Have A System To Detect And Treat Behavioral Problems?

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

Florida does, and it doesn’t. I have some pretty strong feelings about that. I’m convinced that every time we have an election, whether every two years or every four, every village in Florida empties itself of idiots by sending them to Tallahassee where they pass laws. Unfortunately, what Florida has done in the last few years is continuously cut the budget for mental health. So it seems that politically, we have a lot of will to lock people up and incarcerate them for long periods of time. Florida spends billions on its criminal justice system, yet at the same time, we’re cutting the funds for mental health. Let me give you an example from the Panhandle, straight out of my hometown.

There is an alternative program called TEAM, which is a treatment-oriented court with a judge, a prosecutor and defense lawyers, whether privately retained or public defenders. TEAM has been a relatively successful program despite the fact it is under-funded, not large enough and does not have cutting-edge mental health technologies. They have a capacity for only 27 people. To give you an idea of how under-funded that is compared to need, on any given day in Escambia County, Florida at the courthouse in my hometown in Pensacola, you’re probably going to have hundreds of people in that single day go through the criminal justice system.

There are five county court divisions alone for misdemeanors, whether they’re criminal, traffic or non-criminal misdemeanors; and during a week of formal charging, what we call arraignment, I would guesstimate that easily well over 500 people go through the system during those five work days of the week. Yet, we have in that one county, 27 spots; and during any single week, we have over 500. And I haven’t even counted the felonies and the circuit court. Then when it becomes the naturally foreseeable result that someone has been arrested and accused of a crime, whether minor or horrible, we could have prevented that.

This particular crime could have been prevented by putting the money on the front end in our schools, in our community mental health centers and on our college campuses, but we’re not doing that. Instead, we lock people up, send them to jail or prison, and then we wonder why they get into even more trouble later on, costing the taxpayers, over the course of their lives, tens of billions of dollars. Basically, what we’re doing is under-funding mental health on the front end and not applying what we do know on the back end in the criminal justice system, and at this particular juncture in time, the need for crime and treatment has never been greater because what Florida is doing with its tax dollars is an embarrassment to anybody with a thinking mind.

Can People Be Found Not Guilty Based On The Results Of Their Brain Scans?

No, but that may become the compelling argument that ends the paradigm of crime and punishment. I don’t think the technology is there yet, but I think it is becoming very close. When you consider the equal protection argument, you start to suddenly look at this entire area of litigation a lot differently. In the past few years the Supreme Court of the United States has placed increasing restrictions on juveniles when it comes to sentencing. First they outlawed the death penalty for juveniles. Then they made it impossible to sentence them to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Then they cracked down on judges giving the person consecutive sentences to where it’s over 100 years in prison.

Each time, what they’ve done is they have looked at neuroscience and the development of the human brain, and they have set very high bars for prosecutors now. So no, I’m not saying that people are not guilty because of their brain scans; but when you look at people with healthy normal brain scans, they are engaging in healthy normal behavior. When you look at brain scans of people who are committing crimes, we’re finding 100% correlation between criminal acts and brain disorders. It is an argument that is going to come but come later. It has in some other states already.

The legal rules are very clear on the issue of competency. The person has to be able to understand what’s going on. They have to be able to rationally communicate with their lawyer. They can’t be doing the whole aliens-in-my-brain-made-me-rob-a-bank defense. We do have cases where people are not guilty by reason of insanity, but that’s not the focus of crime and treatment. We do have issues of competency, but that’s not the focus of crime and treatment. Our focus is: “Okay, so-and-so is guilty of X, now what?” We try to fill in the blanks of now what.

We can send somebody to prison for seven years and spend an extraordinary amount of money in doing so; then they’re going to come out of prison and be one unhappy human being who’s had no treatment for seven years. Think of it this way: during the 1970s, there was a rash of hijackings and people would demand money. They would parachute out of planes or make pilots land in strange places. It was a lot of drama. There was a call for us to summarily execute aircraft hijackers, and then we had 9/11, which increased travel restrictions

When Timothy McVeigh set off a bomb in Oklahoma City, the president said he would seek the death penalty. McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death, but he gave up his appeals and went for lethal injection.

It used to be that we were told the death penalty and imprisonment would deter people. What we found out is that instead of hijacking planes for money or for political causes, the hijackers are willing to kill themselves and fly them into buildings. We’re finding out now that somebody facing the death penalty in a shootout scenario or a murder case can read the tea leaves. They know that, at best, they’re going to be in prison for the rest of their life. So what are they doing? They’re going out in a blaze of glory. I expect that trend to continue. It’s a real problem, and what we need to do, instead, is create a less punitive criminal justice system because what it is actually doing is making the problem of crime worse.

If instead of reinstituting the death penalty in the United States, the Supreme Court had allowed the ban on the death penalty to continue, what would have happened would have been very different, historically. I think this trend of murder suicide would possibly not have even started in the west, and instead we’ve had just the opposite.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

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