Pre-trial detainees with mental disabilities often wait in Colorado’s jails awaiting court-ordered competency evaluations for longer than they would have been incarcerated for their alleged offense.
In some cases, these people are stuck in jails for more than six months, as they wait to be ushered to the state’s mental hospital for evaluations and treatment.
These allegations, which comes from a lawsuit filed by the Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on August 31 , are the latest in a long-running dispute between the advocacy group and the state regarding its treatment of people with mental disabilities accused of crimes. The lawsuit comes amid a larger-than-expected spike in court-ordered competency evaluations across the state, which is also dealing with significant budget problems.
“You can’t use the budget crisis to justify violating people’s constitutional rights. You don’t dump the problem on the most-disenfranchised population in Colorado,” said attorney Iris Eytan in a Denver Post article. “You fix it. You saw this coming. We sued you five years ago.”
In 2006, the Legal Center filed a lawsuit alleging similar offenses. The lawsuit led to a comprehensive settlement with the state to create a 30-day maximum wait time for inmates to be ushered from jails to the state’s mental hospital, according to a Legal Center news release.
The settlement expired in 2009 when the state opened a new 200-bed psychiatric facility. But despite this new resource for providing mental health evaluations and treatment, the wait times are again expanding, the lawsuit alleges.
“The people we are trying to help are caught in a procedural limbo; they need, and are constitutionally entitled, to treatment. But instead of receiving mental health care at the (Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo), they are unjustifiably confined in jail for months on end,” said Legal Center attorney Marcus Lock in the news release.
The Legal Center is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.