Florida Prepares to Move Mentally Ill Inmates into Hospitals

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One of Governor Jeb Bush’s last acts is to ask for money from the state's reserves to move the mentally ill into hospitals.

There are 308 mentally ill inmates in county jails in Florida; 260 are long past the 15 day time set by law for transfer to a treatment facility.

Longtime DCF Critic Karen Geivers says the department has just been ignoring the problem for years. "The recent crisis has in fact been a long term crisis that has become visible," she said.

It wasn’t until a Pinellas County judge threatened the department head with a fine and jail that state policy makers began taking the law seriously.

DCF now admits the judge was a big factor in seeing the emergency money.

Al Zimmerman with the Florida Department of Children and Families said, "You know, a lot of attention has been brought to this in the last few months. Maybe the judge’s decision made a difference, but, the fact of the matter is, for months now, the people at DCF have been trying to solve this problem, even before the first hearing took place. Did that publicity help? Probably."

DCF says it will take about three months before it can begin moving inmates. They have plans to send them to hospitals in Chattahoochee, Jacksonville and Miami.

Incoming Governor Charlie Crist says it will make his job easier. "It’s the right thing to do," he says.

The move will free jail space across the state, and keep jailers not trained to deal with the mentally ill, safer.

Pending approval from a legislative committee, the state will use $18 million dollars from its savings account to start moving inmates.

The money should be available in mid-January.