Saturday, June 2, 2012

Incompetent inmates languish in California jails

Inmates with serious mental illnesses deemed incompetent to stand trial are languishing in California jail cells for months as they wait for state hospital beds to open up, according to advocates, jail officials and family members, according to The Sacramento Bee.

State and county budget cuts to mental health programs are combining with prison realignment and a shrinking number of state hospital beds to exacerbate the problem, they say.

In many counties, seriously mentally ill inmates routinely wait three to six months in jail before a state hospital bed opens up, Randall Hagar, director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association told The Bee. He calls the situation, which he says has gotten worse in recent years, "tragic."

In recent years, counties around California have been severely hit by budget cuts to mental health services. From 2009 to 2012, California has reduced mental health funding by $765 million, more than a fifth of its mental health budget, according to a report by the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, which advocates for services and treatment. As funds and services have disappeared, the number of people with mental illness landing behind bars has surged, reported The Bee.

State prison inmates with mental illnesses increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2012, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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