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Pressure increases on DCF to remove mentally ill from jails

The pressure on the Department of Children and Families to remove mentally ill inmates from county jails continues to mount.

A Miami appeals court ruled Wednesday that the DCF must remove such inmates from Miami-Dade jails immediately.

And on Tuesday, an advocacy group for people with disabilities filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against DCF Secretary Lucy Hadi. The Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities seeks to force Hadi to remove about 300 mentally ill inmates from jails statewide.

The actions come after Pinellas Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell fined Hadi $80,000 and threatened to jail her if her agency didn't remove inmates from the Pinellas jail right away.

Hadi announced last week that she was resigning as DCF secretary next month. Hadi told the St. Petersburg Times her resignation was because of an accumulation of things, not solely because of the hubbub over the mentally ill inmates.

The DCF is required by state law to transfer inmates out of county jails to mental health facilities within 15 days after a judge declares them incompetent.

But the DCF has run out of bed space, with a waiting list ballooning to nearly 300 people and the waits increasing to an average of three months. In that time, mentally sick inmates have harmed themselves and have stretched the resources of local jails, which are ill equipped to deal with such inmates.

It is unclear if the 3rd District Court of Appeal's ruling will have statewide impact.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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