Mentally ill inmates to receive treatment

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 11:47 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Mentally ill jail inmates who are unfit for trial will be moved into treatment facilities over the next few months, after a joint legislative commission approved $16.6 million Wednesday to create more than 350 new spaces.

It's an immediate stopgap measure to erase, by July, a waiting list of about 300 inmates who were deemed unfit for trial but are languishing in jail in violation of state law. The law requires inmates found to be mentally incompetent to be transferred within 15 days to a state hospital.

It will take about $48 million to maintain the new beds over an entire year, something Department of Children & Families Secretary Bob Butterworth will ask the Legislature to approve during its upcoming session that begins in March.

"The judges in the state are frustrated, as you are, and they've taken some actions to get our attention," Butterworth told the Legislative Budget Commission.

A judge threatened late last year to jail and fine Butterworth's predecessor, Lucy Hadi, for the agency's failure to remove mentally ill inmates from the Pinellas County Jail.

Under Hadi, DCF said it couldn't follow the law because all its mental hospitals were full and it had no money to provide more beds.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration will give the $16.6 million to DCF out of its surplus, and there will be no change in existing services to make room for the additional funding, Butterworth said.

Butterworth, a former attorney general and a Democrat appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, said he was "very, very pleased" by the commission's voice vote.

He said the action was a "fix" that will alleviate the current situation before lawmakers set aside spending for the next budget year.

Crist supports the fix, saying "sounds like the right thing to do to me."

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