Florida legislators have agreed to spend nearly $17 million to move hundreds of mentally ill inmates now languishing in county jails into psychiatric hospital beds, the Miami Herald reports. Legislators approved the emergency spending request after a judge threatened to jail the former head of the Department of Children & Families for ignoring a law that requires that jail inmates ruled incompetent to stand trial be removed from jail and given treatment. The Legislative Budget Commission approved spending $16.6 million to pay for 373 beds for mentally ill inmates. The commission agreed to spend an additional $1 million to provide initial treatment to mentally ill inmates still in jail.
Some 297 mentally ill inmates across the state are on a waiting list to be moved to psychiatric hospitals, including 253 who have been waiting for more than 15 days. Florida law requires that treatment for any inmate deemed incompetent to stand trial be given within 15 days of a judge’s order. Officials in Miami-Dade were pleased to hear that more beds would open up soon, but said more must still be done. ”It’s heading in the right direction, but the concern is it may be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Carlos Martinez, chief assistant public defender. “We may experience a shortfall in some other area of mental health.”