Lucy Hadi has been threatened with jail if Florida doesn't care for severely mentally ill inmates, but her departure will not end the crisis. As head of the Department of Children and Families for the past two years, she has answered to a governor who mocks a judge who wants action.
Hadi's surprise announcement Friday that she will depart next month only shifts the political focus to where it really belonged anyway: Gov. Jeb Bush and a Legislature that have shown indifference to the plight of deeply troubled people who end up in jail cells.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell has led a judicial crackdown statewide on DCF, and perhaps he could have been more circumspect in some of his recent public remarks. But Florida has repeatedly failed to treat mentally ill people in a timely fashion, DCF is violating state law, and the agency conspired to ignore court orders.
The governor may want to chastise judges he sees as interfering in his own domain, but Bush and state lawmakers have failed to meet their statutory obligations. For the previous four years, as the number of inmates found incompetent to stand trial climbed by 34 percent, the number of available state mental health treatment beds increased by only 4 percent. Not until this year, when 87 beds were added, did the state even attempt to catch up. That is way too little, way too late. State law says that mentally incompetent people must be removed from jails within 15 days, but the average wait is roughly six times that amount.
This problem could have been resolved with a mere fraction of the $19-billion in tax cuts Bush claims to have produced in his tenure as governor. Instead, the governor kept ignoring the warnings from sheriffs, prosecutors, public defenders and judges. In his initial budget recommendation for this year, he actually requested less money for mental health programs.
Meanwhile, Hadi has announced she is redirecting $5-million toward creating more mental health treatment capacity. Her office is also preparing a supplemental budget request for more money, and House Democrats on Friday called for the issue to be added to the Jan. 16 special session on property insurance.
Hadi's reasons for leaving the job may be unrelated to the mental health crisis, but under Bush the problem has grown worse. Now he mocks the "judges pounding their chest in their big black robes." But no one, not even governors, is above the law.