The American Civil Liberties Union Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania, saying mentally ill defendants in the state face waits much longer than in any other area in the country. Sometimes the waits are longer than what they would have likely been sentenced to if they had seen trial. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Hospitals that administer the treatment are backed up. Two Pennsylvania hospitals that provide the “competency restoration treatment” have about 240 beds total, and most of the time they are filled, the lawsuit alleges. “This is truly a crisis that is going to require a huge response to fix these problems,” Pennsylvania legal director for the ACLU Witold Walczak told the Post-Gazette. "Our clients in this case are the forgotten among the forgotten," he added.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 11 people, according to WCAU-TV out of Philadelphia. The long waits violate the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the suit.
"While we cannot comment on pending litigation, the department has been working with the courts and other stakeholders to improve services at our forensic units since that time," Kate Gillis, press secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, told the Patriot-News out of Harrisburg.
— Prison_Health (@Prison_Health) October 22, 2015
Mentally ill defendants are often put in jail instead of getting treatment. In 2012, more than 350,000 mentally ill patients were housed in American prisons — more than the estimated population of Anchorage, Alaska, or Pittsburgh, the Washington Post reported. In the same year, about 35,000 people were registered as patients in state psychiatric hospitals throughout the country.