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Quick fixes for dealing with people with mental illness before they face a judge and jury

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:21pm
Some interesting headlines - all courtesy of the National GAINS Co-Occurring Disorders and Justice Center , which provides practical assistance to help communities design, implement and operate integrated mental health services.

Mentally Ill in Jail Too Long, Lawsuit Charges ( Austin American Statesman , 2/15/07)...

Officials Clash Over Mentally Ill in Florida Jails ( New York Times , 11/15/06)...

State Standoff on Mentally Ill ( Denver Post , 12/5/06)...

Competency to stand trial is a constitutionally required mandate, the GAINS center says. But many people with mental illness who find themselves on death row - or something short of that - find themselves without the kind of legal protection that could give them any chance of getting the right treatment, whether they are found incompetent or not.

In many jurisdictions, however, solutions for these competing issues have been found that are relatively easy and inexpensive to institute, the GAINS center says.

At the competency examination stage, the priority is promptly providing competency examinations to minimize any delay in the criminal proceedings, avoiding extended incarceration for persons awaiting examination and avoiding unnecessary hospitalization for competency examinations, according to the center.

Virginia increased fees for community-based examinations to attract more qualified evaluators.

Jurisdictions in Illinois, Washington State, and Massachusetts provide court-based examiners.

In Seattle's Municipal Mental Health Court , initial competency assessments are made by a public defender, a defense social worker and a court- employed mental health professional.

These assessments, which precede the formal competency evaluation request, provide for a more accurate referral process.

"Clearly, much can be done to streamline competency examinations and restorations without major statutory revisions that can take years," according to the center. "With strategic convening of local stakeholders, major change is possible through creative alterations of local procedures and improved communications. There are quick fixes that work."
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