For people who have never seen the inside of a jail, they think of prison as a place to house criminals, until they've served their sentence. However, the unfortunate truth is that law enforcement, the courts, and the state and local government are putting the mentally ill behind bars rather than make sure they get the help they need. Now a lawsuit has been filed against the state of California to challenge the way the state has been treating the mentally ill.
Under California law, when people who are mentally ill are facing criminal charges, and they are cannot understand the nature of the crime or criminal proceedings, they are supposed to be transferred to mental health facilities for treatment while waiting for their case to proceed. However, families represented the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) have filed a lawsuit alleging California is warehousing the mentally ill.
On behalf of family members of criminal defendants, the lawsuit has charged the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH) and Department of Developmental Services (DDS) with denying the individuals treatment and their right to due process. These defendants were already declared incompetent to stand trial, but were not transferred out of jail in a timely manner.
Under state law, these defendants who are declared incompetent to stand trial are to receive treatment within 35 days, but many end up waiting months. Some claim the jail environment itself poses additional dangers to the mentally ill, and may drive some closer to the edge. The lawsuit seeks a court order for the state hospitals to speed up the transfer process.
Some mentally ill or developmentally disabled defendants can wait up to a year or more before they are transferred to a treatment facility. According to Michael Risher, a Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, “These delays are cruel and unconstitutional, and warehousing these defendants in jail does great harm to individuals and families across California.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case said that while her disabled son waited for eight months in a Los Angeles County Jail for a transfer, he was raped multiple times by another inmate. Other plaintiffs have said their mentally ill father had worsening symptoms after he failed to get treatment while in jail, injuring himself during that time, and ultimately committing suicide while awaiting transfer to a hospital.
While officials with the state institutions are not commenting on pending litigation, they have claimed significant improvements, including funding additional hospital beds for mentally ill defendants. The lawsuit was filed in the Alameda County Superior Court, and the complaint can be found here.
At the Gorelick Law Offices, attorney Lynn Gorelick has dedicated her legal career to defending people charged with criminal offenses in the East Bay. With more than 30 years of criminal defense experience, she understands the serious criminal penalties, and knows how to fight to keep your arrest from ending in a conviction. Contact your local East Bay criminal defense attorney who will make sure you get the justice you deserve.