Pennsylvania is so overwhelmed by demand for state hospital beds to treat defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial that at least two have died in jail while waiting for beds in recent years, reported PennLive.com.
Those deaths are highlighted in a class-action lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over delays that have left some of the state's most severely mentally ill waiting months – and on many occasions more than a year – in county prisons that are poorly equipped to handle them.
"These are people who have essentially been left to rot in jails because there isn't enough room in the hospitals where they belong," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "I could sugarcoat it, but that's really what's going on here."
Defendants in Pennsylvania are transferred to one of two state hospitals when they are deemed incompetent to stand trial and require intensive treatment to be restored to competency. But delays to transfer defendants to those hospitals – Torrance State Hospital near Pittsburgh and Norristown State Hospital near Philadelphia – have surged in recent years.
Federal courts have ruled that defendants shouldn't wait longer than a week to be transferred to a state hospital for treatment following a commitment order. By contrast, according to the ACLU's lawsuit, the last 25 defendants transferred from Philadelphia's prison system to Norristown State Hospital waited an average of 391 days for beds – with one defendant waiting 589 days.
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