DCF CONTINUES TO FAIL IN DUTY OF CARE TO MENTALLY ILL INMATES by Roxanne Escobales

10/11/06

This past month, the Florida Department of Children and Families, or DCF, has come under fire for not finding beds quickly enough for mentally ill prisoners. In the Pinellas County Jail, 27 inmates have been waiting more than 15 days for placement in a state psychiatric hospital. The jail’s medical director Dr Tim Bailey said that the jail environment could have devastating effects on someone suffering from mental health disorders.

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Under state mandate, the DCF has 15 days to find a place in a state hospital for someone deemed by a judge to be not guilty by reason of insanity or not competent to proceed. But the DCF says that as the prison population increases, so does the number of people it needs to take care of in state hospitals.

DCF spokesman Al Zimmerman

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In August, the Pinellas County Commission was told by a paid consultant that its jail was “severely overcrowded� and that the situation was “dire�. It’s population hovers at 3800 – that’s over a thousand more than it was designed to hold. About one-eighth of the inmates take psychiatric medicines. The jail’s Dr Bailey said that environment is stressful no matter how healthy someone is.

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Renee Kilroy is the director of adult services at the Suncoast Center for Community Mental Health, which runs programs in the Pinellas County Jail for people with severe mental disorders. She says that in general 60 percent of the country’s prison population suffers from some form of severe mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Kilroy says that most of the inmates who need treatment don’t get it.

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But the DCF’s Zimmerman says the agency is spending almost 7 million dollars building 84 more beds in its state hospitals.

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The DCF is finalizing its budget for the upcoming year, which must be approved by the legislature. It is “pretty confident� it will get some of the money its asking for so it can add more beds to take care of the mentally ill inmates it is responsible for.

Renee Kilroy at the Suncoast Center says a lot of times, people with mental disorders end up in jail because of their illness.

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According to the DCF, 316 inmates are waiting for a bed in a state hospital. 256 of those have been waiting for over 15 days.

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