“It’s a fairly routine part of criminal justice,” says Richard Bonnie of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He says 60,000 to 80,000 defendants are evaluated for mental competence each year. Of those, judges find 15,000 to 20,000 too mentally ill or disabled to face the charges against them, Bonnie estimates. They are sent to prison psychiatric facilities for treatment intended to make them competent to stand trial. About 85 percent of mentally ill defendants become well enough to return to court. “It’s a pretty rare scenario that someone stays incompetent and never faces their charges,” says Daniel Murrie, a forensic psychologist and professor of psychiatry at University of Virginia medical school.
Jared Loughner, accused of killing six people and wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 12 others in Tucson, will spend the next four months at a prison psychiatric hospital where doctors will attempt what they do with thousands of defendants each year: get him well enough to face the charges in court, reports USA Today. Chances are doctors eventually will be able to get the symptoms of his newly diagnosed schizophrenia under control, and a judge will find him competent to stand trial.