tampabay.com

Mentally ill inmates get state boost

New initiatives and centers open to provide psychiatric treatment.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 4, 2007


JACKSONVILLE - A $16.6-million infusion from state leaders and new initiatives will allow the Department of Children and Families to meet state requirements to get mentally ill inmates into hospitals and out of county jails.

Last fall, mental-health advocates and court officials lambasted the state for failing to meet a state law, resulting in hundreds of severely ill inmates being locked up in county jails for months instead of moving them to psychiatric hospitals in 15 days as required by law. Some judges threatened to fine former DCF Secretary Luci Hadi and hold her in contempt.

DCF statistics indicate the situation is improving.

In early January, there were 270 people on the waiting list for mental health facilities for more than 15 days, said Al Zimmerman, a DCF spokesman. By the middle of next week, that number should be zero, Zimmerman said.

DCF officials have contracted with GEO Care, which runs the South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Miami, to oversee new beds at two facilities owned by the state that were turned into treatment centers.

In March, an unused Department of Corrections building in Miami became the South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center Annex and an empty Department of Juvenile Justice building in Martin County is now Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center.

The two new centers have about 400 staff members to care for 275 mentally ill patients.

As part of legislation approved Wednesday and sent to Gov. Charlie Crist, the Legislature is funding 39 new beds, plus keeping open the beds it funded in December.

The legislation sets aside about $4-million to pay for community grants to try to keep people out of jail and $2.5-million for in-jail treatment.

The in-jail treatment programs are operating already in Pinellas and Orange counties, but Zimmerman said officials would like to see it go statewide.

"This bill is a win-win for everyone, " said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Bay Harbor Islands. "For those who are mentally ill, it moves them to centers where they can be treated. For cash-strapped county jails, it takes the burden off of sheriffs and corrections officers to provide medical care they're ill equipped to give."