FLORIDA'S JAILS ARE TEEMING WITH MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE

11/29/06

Judges across the state- in Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange and Osceola counties are trying to force the Florida Department of Children and Families to comply with state law on the mentally ill. Currently, the DCF is looking the other way while hundreds of mentally ill people are housed in county jails.

One judge, Crockett Farnell of Pinellas County, last week issued DCF Secretary Lucy Hadi seven counts of criminal contempt for ignoring his orders to clear the Pinellas County Jail of mentally ill inmates who have exceeded the 15-day maximum provided by state law for mental assessment.

DCF officials say they have no choice, given the state's shortage of secure psychiatric beds. Following the state's restructuring of mental health care in 2000, there are just 1,400 such beds in three state institutions statewide, while some 1,483 inmates were declared incompetent in 2005 alone. The inflow of new patients is overwhelming the existing facilities. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill rates Florida an F in its state-by-state report card on mental health services. Florida ranks 48th among the 50 states in mental health funding.

Sara Romeo, Executive Director of Tampa Crossroads, joined WMNF's Rob Lorei to discuss the crisis and what Tampa Crossroads does for offenders who are mentally ill.

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