Getting their attention

Published: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 12:38 a.m.
It took a judge and a threat of contempt of court to finally prod state officials into obeying the law and, not coincidently, doing the right thing. Indeed, Tallahassee wasn't prodded into action until a state department head, former Children and Families chief Luci Hadi resigned her job rather than face the prospect of going to jail.
And Hadi hadn't even done anything wrong. The problem was that her agency was guilty of ignoring a law which requires that mentally ill inmates be placed into treatment facilities rather than kept in jail. Hadi's department had been for years been pleading with then Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature for enough money to build the residential treatment beds it needed to comply with the law. But, somehow, Bush and lawmakers always had other priorities.
But this week, a joint legislative commission approved the expenditure of $16.6 million to pay for more than 350 new treatment spaces. That action was a long time coming.
"The judges in the state are frustrated, as you are, and they've taken some actions to get our attention," Bob Butterworth, Hadi's replacement, told the Legislative Budget Commission.
He also told them that paying for those new treatment beds is just the beginning. Operating mental health treatment facilities will require ongoing funding every year. But lawmakers need to keep in mind that the alternative, allowing mentally ill inmates to rot in jail without treatment, is not only inhumane, it's against the law.

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