Written By Nat Stein
Around 100 mentally ill inmates are waiting in jail for psychiatric treatment, some for as long as six months, before their cases can be tried. What’s the delay? The state’s only forensic psychiatry unit is slogging through a waitlist that’s been backlogged for more than 15 years.
Many of these inmates will serve more time in jail time waiting for trial than they would have if they had pled guilty and served out a maximum sentence, according to Disability Law Colorado, a nonprofit advocating for the developmentally disabled.
Disability Law Colorado watchdogs the state Department of Human Services, which promised, after a 2012 federal settlement, that detainees needing mental health care would be admitted to Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo within 28 days of a court order.
Mid-July, criminal defense attorney Iris Eytan learned that a colleague’s client marked “admitted” on hospital records had been languishing without treatment in jail.
Following up on what could have been an administrative error, Eytan heard from dozens of inmates, their families, attorneys and a judge whose stories showed DHS wasn’t living up to its promise and that inmates were being jailed well over 28 days.
Disability Law Colorado then audited CMHIP’s monthly reports to find discrepancies as far back as March 2015. Attorneys discovered CMHIP had a policy to admit no more than one patient a day.
Eytan said that for much of the summer, Department of Human Services attorneys denied the policy and that the hospital had a backlogged waiting list.
Attorneys for Disability Law Colorado and DHS tried to resolve the matter outside court, but talks crumbled. So the law center penned a motion to ask the court to re-open and enforce the 2012 settlement.
“They didn’t even know the extent of the problem. We still don’t even know the full extent,” she said.
Spokesman for the Department of Human Services Lee Rasizer would not comment on these allegations.
The motion to re-open the case includes disturbing stories. Take the experience of a schizophrenic man referred to as J.L.
He was charged with verbal harassment and misdemeanor menacing after going off his medication. He was jailed in Elbert County in May.