Published January 30, 2006 1 2 Next »
Nancy Morais was horrified at the conditions of the commitment center when she visited her son there. Marc is a former resident of the center. She found a backed-up sewer and a lack of medical treatment. Photo by Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald
Lack of care,
Lack of rules

Medical and security inspections are not conducted at the Florida Civil Commitment Center. It doesn't need a license to operate, and rules have never been written.

When Nancy Morais went to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in 2001 to visit her son Marc, she found pools of ankle-deep, stagnant water in the visitor's yard and questionable medical treatment that threatened the health of her son, who had been fighting a brain tumor.

Created by the state Legislature in 1998, the treatment center is obligated under state and federal law to provide medical and psychiatric care to Florida's most dangerous sexual offenders while they receive treatment for mental disorders.

But the facility, (a combination of a prison and a mental health hospital,) operates with little oversight.

Checks and balances that are commonplace at similar facilities in other states are not in place at Florida's center.

It doesn't need a license to operate. No accreditation from prison or mental or medical health associations are is required.

In fact, administrative codes -- the rulebook used to guide the actions of government institutions -- have never been written for the center.

For example, should fire codes be based on prison or hospital codes? How should mail be handled?

"The rules governing the facility haven't been totally developed yet," said Rick Harry, the director of the facility, who spent 10 years run- ning Minnesota's civil commitment center. "In Minnesota, I had a clear idea about what we were. Here, I don't."

That leaves Harry and his employer, the Pennsylvania based private contractor Liberty Behavioral Health, responsible for developing rules and policies for a state institution.

The Department of Children & Families says it's not "statutorily authorized to promulgate rules'' governing the center but said it helped Liberty create rules for the offenders to follow.

In a written statement to The Miami Herald last week, the DCF criticized Liberty for ‘‘numerous deficiencies'' in its performance, including fire and safety code violations and ‘‘mismanagement in the delivery of healthcare."

The DCF says it is now accepting bids for a new contractor. This time, the state wants the company to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities -- an outside agency that would provide more monitoring of services.

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