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Hillsborough State Attorney, Tampa Bay leaders address underlying causes of crime

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY. Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Bay area leaders are tackling the key causes of crime in neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, dozens of them sat down with a task force led by Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren to come up with solutions.

Warren says the root causes behind many crimes are substance abuse or mental illness, but the state’s justice system isn’t set up to handle these challenges.

Tampa Bay leaders are addressing this issue with Warren and the Safety and Justice Task Force, a statewide task force focused on finding solutions to make the criminal justice system more effective and neighborhoods safer.

“How do we balance what’s happening in the criminal justice system with connecting those people outside the system to get them the help they need,” Warren said.

A 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report shows more than one-third of people behind bars have a diagnosed mental disorder.

A psychiatry report shows more than 80% of all crimes are tied to drugs or alcohol.

“At a time when Tallahassee politics are a bit toxic, we want people to know at a local level stakeholders are working together everyday to try and make our system better and our neighborhoods more safe,” Warren said.

The conversation is important to Michael Jalazo, the executive director of People Empowering & Restoring Communities in Pinellas County, an organization that helps offenders become and remain ex-offenders.

“There are gaps and this is important work and if we do this work well, our community safer, but people, instead of being high utilizers, touching different points in the system, maybe we can get them the help they need,” Jalazo said. “I hope from discussions like this is that we can take that back legislatively and come up with a way to be able to share assessments and not worry about what the ramifications are outside of helping someone get better.”

The task force will meet several more times throughout the state. They’ll take the ideas and put together a plan or recommendations that every criminal justice system in Florida should have to address things like gun violence and mental health.

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