Florida's woeful track record on mental-health care is well chronicled. The state ranks dead last among the states in spending on mental health, according to the most recent analysis by the Florida Policy Institute.
And with the jails housing so many mentally ill defendants, county authorities have been working for years to build a Mental Health Diversion Facility in Miami, one that might serve defendants such as Jerome – who had several minor brushes with the law before his latest arrest.
"We just don't have the funding. We have a lousy continuum of care," said Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, a longtime advocate for reforming how the criminal-justice system treats the mentally ill. "It's really hard for family members to get the services they need. There is little long-term continuing care, monitoring to make sure people get their medications. People fall through the cracks."
Jerome was one of those cases.
His mother, an immigrant from the Bahamas, worked as a nanny and housekeeper for lawyer Don Ryce and his wife, Claudine, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They lived in Coconut Grove. Wright cared for Don's youngest children from an earlier marriage, Ted and Martha, then his newborn son.
That baby son was Jimmy Ryce, born around the same time as Jerome. The two babies played alongside each other.
"I'm sure there was no lack of love for Jerome. She had a great capacity for caring and giving," Don Ryce said.
But neither boy escaped tragedy.
Jimmy, then 9 years old, vanished from a school bus in South Miami-Dade in 1995, sparking an extensive manhunt that ended when a handyman confessed to his gruesome murder. The crime horrified South Florida parents and spurred legislation allowing the state to indefinitely detain sexual predators.
"Jim was like my baby," said Wright, who cared for the boy for the first couple years of his life. "That was like my family. The kids, and Mr. and Mrs. Ryce."