For years, Florida judges have ordered state officials to obey the law and promptly transfer severely mentally ill inmates from jails to state hospitals, says the New York Times. With few hospital beds available, Gov. Jeb Bush's administration began flouting those court orders in August. The state is being threatened with steep daily fines if it does not comply. One judge has raised the possibility that the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families could go to jail for contempt of court.
State law requires that inmates found incompetent to stand trial be moved from county jails to psychiatric hospitals within 15 days of the state's receiving the commitment orders. A rising number of mentally ill inmates, now more than 300, have been left without treatment in crowded jails because the state's 1,416 psychiatric beds are full. The problem is not unique to Florida; it is severe in Miami-Dade County, which has one of the nation's largest percentages of mentally ill residents, says the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. A Justice Department study released in September found that 64 percent of inmates in county jails around the nation reported mental health problems within the last year. Many are arrested for petty crimes say, yet remain in jail a long time because there is nowhere else for them to go.