DCF Must Treat Mentally Ill Inmates

The issue came to a head last month when a judge threatened to jail the secretary for the Department of Children and Families if she didn’t move the inmates into treatment within 15 days as required by law.

Florida law requires the state to move jail inmates diagnosed as being mentally incompetent into treatment facilities within 15 days, but it’s not happening in jails throughout the state.

The crisis is frustrating for jail administrators like Major Carl Bennett in Leon County.

MAJ Carl Bennett with the Leon County Jail said, "Jails are not designed or equipped to deal with mentally ill inmates, especially ones who need extensive treatment and therapy."

The crisis boiled over last month when a judge threatened to throw the head of the department of children and families in jail herself for failing to follow the law.

Gov. Jeb Bush has since directed the agency to find $5 million for 85 additional beds in treatment facilities.

DCF is also picking up the tab for more prescription meds now. The governor is still angry about the judge’s order, but he agrees his successor and the Legislature will have to do a better job planning and budgeting for mentally-ill inmates in the future.

"That is the appropriate role of the judiciary to respectfully point that out, not to demand it or to hold someone in contempt or threaten someone to go to jail," Bush said.

But the judge did force the state to finally fund more bed space and treatment options. The head of DCF finds out next month if the efforts made to solve the crisis will be enough to keep her out of jail.


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