State officials worry they’re going to face steep financial fines — tens of thousands of dollars a month — with the death of a bill in the legislature that would have allowed them to treat mentally ill people in jail for up to five months before they are deemed to stand trial.
A bill that died at the stroke of midnight Thursday would have shifted much of the state’s mentally ill treatment for people in jail to the jails themselves — giving the state 150 days to restore an incarcerated person to competency before they stand trial.
After that, if the person was still sick, they would be moved to a bed in a state hospital, or be entered into adjudication in the courts.
“Right now it’s about having enough beds,” said Robert Werthwein, the state’s chief of the Office of Behavioral Health. “How do you keep up? And then the notion of putting someone in the hospital because they’re court ordered who doesn’t meet the clinical level of a hospital.”
The state Department of Human Services has been sued three times in ten years for taking too long to both give people pre-trial competency evaluations and then get them moved to a clinical setting for treatment.
Disability Law Colorado said jail is not the place for mental health treatment as a long term solution. Lawyers and lobbyists for the organization fought the state all the way up to the last minute on how long the state would have to treat someone in jail. The advocates thought five months was too long for someone, pre-trial, to remain in jail.
Lawyers working for Disability Law Colorado were mum about future legal plans. Iris Eytan, a lawyer helping the mental health advocacy organization, said, “the legal team is considering its options … and I can say that we are disheartened they [state officials] did not respond to any of our offers to compromise made in the last few weeks.”
State officials are out of compliance in the most recent court settlement agreement reached in 2016. They were seeking reprieve from that settlement agreement, which requires them to give mental health competency evaluations within 28 days and, if a person is deemed incompetent to stand trial, get them into a bed within another month.
“Our options are limited and our solutions are limited as a result of the bill not passing and not being able to serve people where they are,” Werthwein said. “It’s difficult with one hand tied behind our back.”