Mentally ill inmates sue DCF, demand freedom

The Miami-Dade County Jail is overcrowded and dangerous, lawsuits against the state claim.

Published October 8, 2006

MIAMI - Five mentally ill inmates have sued Florida's Department of Children and Families, demanding to be released from Miami-Dade County Jail on claims that the conditions there are dangerous.

All five have been declared incompetent and ordered into state care, but the DCF has said it doesn't have the space, so the inmates are being held in the main jail.

By law, the state has 15 days to pick up an inmate. All five inmates have been waiting well past that time on the overcrowded and understaffed ninth floor, according to three lawsuits filed in state court and a class-action suit in federal court over the past week.

Inmate Eugene Roman is now blind after he gouged out his eyes while waiting in one of the jail's suicide cells last year, the lawsuit said.

A doctor who examined Roman said the jail had made him worse and that he needed mental health care. Instead, he was released in February and rearrested in April on charges of attempted rape and kidnapping.

Roman was declared incompetent in August and ordered into DCF care.

"If a parent treated their kid the way this county is treating these inmates, the state would come take the kid away," said Norm Kent, the attorney for two inmates who sued in federal court.

A DCF spokeswoman said Saturday it would be inappropriate to comment because the agency had not been served with the lawsuit.

DCF spokesman Al Zimmerman said the state doesn't have enough beds for inmates. Zimmerman said 316 prisoners are waiting for spots to open, with 256 of those waiting more than 15 days.

The lawsuits cited a 2004 grand jury report which exposed deplorable conditions in the jail's mental health ward where as many as five inmates are being held in cells designed for one, with the lights kept on 24 hours a day. The inmates are allowed to wear only paper robes to prevent suicide attempts.

Miami-Dade County officials blamed the DCF for the overcrowding.

"To the extent that we have problems on the ninth floor, it's a failure of DCF to comply with their statutory duty," said Assistant County Attorney Randy Duvall.

Kent said the county is "woefully delinquent in (its) obligations."