California Warehouses Mentally Ill, ACLU Says

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – California “warehouses” mentally ill criminal defendants in jails without treatment for months, often in defiance of judicial orders, five inmates and their families claim in court.
     This denies them speedy trials, prevents them from gaining mental competency so they can stand trial, and the state lets them “languish in jail for months even after the court has ordered them committed for competency restoration,” the plaintiffs and the ACLU say in their July 29 complaint in Alameda County Court. “It is often only when a judge threatens to hold the state officials in contempt for failing to obey the commitment order that the defendant is finally admitted to an appropriate treatment facility.”
     Plaintiff Nancy Leiva says her incompetent son was raped repeatedly in Los Angeles County Jail, where he was held for 8 months after the court ordered him committed to a state hospital. He was arrested on Sept. 9, 2011; found incompetent to stand trial on Dec. 6, 2012 and ordered to be committed to the Porterville Development Center for treatment, but spent the next 8 months in the county jail.
     “These delays are cruel and unconstitutional, and warehousing these defendants in jail does great harm to individuals and families across California,” attorney Michael Risher said. “While these vulnerable defendants wait for transfer to treatment facilities, they’re stuck in a tragic limbo.”
     Leiva called her son “easy prey for other inmates” in the overcrowded county jail.
     As of Feb. 15, 366 incompetent defendants suffering from mental illness were awaiting admission to state hospitals. One had been warehoused for 258 days; the average wait was 75 days, according to the complaint.
     By April, the state reported, 11 people had been waiting for more than 9 months after commitment, two of them for 384 days. While awaiting admission to hospitals or development centers, they usually are held in county jails.
     “Those jails are rarely, if ever, equipped to treat individuals with serious mental illnesses or to care for individuals with developmental disabilities,” the ACLU says in the lawsuit.
     “Incompetent defendants are often held in solitary confinement because of their mental conditions – a situation that often exacerbates the prisoners’ mental conditions, causes deterioration of their mental health and decreases the chances that they will achieve competency to proceed with their cases in a timely manner.”
     Their mental illnesses sometimes lead to conflicts with jail staff and other inmates, endanger the safety of jail staff and inmates and can lead to additional criminal charges.
     They seek writ of mandate and an injunction granting them quicker admission into treatment facilities, and barring the state from violating their rights to due process and speedy trials.
     Names as defendants are California, California Department of State Hospitals Director Pamela Ahlin, and California Department of Developmental Services Director Santi J. Rogers.
     Neither official was available for comment Wednesday.

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