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Relief for Mentally Ill Inmates
The funding from state lawmakers comes after Luci Hadi, the former Secretary of the Department of Children and Families was threatened with jail time.
But some temporary funding has already made a difference. There used to be only three treatment centers state-wide to house people who have been judged to be either incompetent to proceed because of a mental illness or not guilty by reason of insanity--including one in Alachua County. Now there are 5, which means there are almost 300 more beds available. DCF officials say they're already seeing the dividends.
It was a full house Friday at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center. Each of the 216 beds is claimed by a resident getting help for mental health problems.
"The focus here is on treatment," says the Assistant Administrator of NFETC, Dennis Flath. "We have every resident that comes in has a psychiatrist, psychologist with their case, a nurse, a counselor who works with them every day."
That's much better than what a county jail can provide. State law gives DCF 15 days to be moved to a facility. But the actual waiting list was much longer. Around the first of the year, it would take 6-8 weeks at NFETC because the list was 300 names long. Friday, the waiting list was 31 names long meaning only a 12 days wait.
Flath says, "the quicker we can get them into treatment facilities, the better it is for their case and the better it is for them as people"
The legislation also sets aside several million dollars to help people before they need to go to jail or a psychiatric hospital in the first place.
"Lots of these individuals come into the criminal justice system because they don't have the resources," says Forensics Coordinator Taralyn Mitchell. She works develops, monitors and coordinates funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program Office. "They never get the services. So with this money, we're able to give them the services and the medications."
Flath says the turnaround time for those deemed incompetent to proceed is 3-4 months. For those found not guilty by reason of insanity to be two years.
"The department has never wanted to be out of compliance with the law," Flath says. "They've always wanted to treat these folks but if you don't have the resources, you don't have the resources. Fortunately, now we do. We'll be able to treat the folks as they need and the law demands."
As of Friday, the Levy County Jail had the most mentally ill inmates with five. Both Alachua and Marion counties have four each. Columbia, Dixie and Gilchrist counties have zero.
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News
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