Families sue California health officials for not transferring disabled relatives out of jail
Families who say their mentally ill and developmentally disabled loved ones endured rape and other trauma while languishing in California jails sued the state on Wednesday, saying officials failed to move them to treatment centers as required by law.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of four families by the American Civil Liberties Union details brutal experiences of defendants who were declared incompetent to stand trial yet kept incarcerated in county jails, sometimes for months.
“The law is clear that when the state prosecutes a person who is unable to participate in the proceedings they have to suspend the proceedings and send that person for evaluation and treatment – and they have to do that promptly,” said Michael Risher, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “Instead, we are warehousing hundreds of people in county jails.”
The ACLU complaint, filed in Superior Court in Alameda County near San Francisco, names as defendants the directors of the California Department of State Hospitals and the Department of Developmental Services, which provide services to mentally ill and developmentally disabled people.
It says the departments failed to remove defendants ruled to be incompetent from jails in a timely manner, leaving them instead in conditions under which they were extremely vulnerable.
In one case, the complaint said, a developmentally disabled man was held in a Los Angeles County jail for eight months after a judge ordered him to a treatment center. At the jail, the man, who was not identified, was repeatedly raped by another inmate, and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, it said.
In another case, a mentally ill man committed suicide in a jail in Sutter County in Northern California 10 days after a judge had ordered him to be treated and evaluated at a state mental hospital.
State officials said they would not comment on pending litigation. But both departments targeted by the suit said they had added beds to help speed up the removal of defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial from county lockups.
Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ralph Montano said California had opened up 196 beds for mentally ill defendants since 2013, and funded an additional 140 to be built this year. The state has also funded 108 beds for mentally ill defendants to be restored to competency within the county jails, along with 40 beds for developmentally disabled defendants in a state-run institution, he said.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)