With the percentage of state prison inmates with mental illnesses rising, many of those convicts deemed incompetent to stand trial are languishing in California jail cells for months as they wait for state hospital beds to open up, reports the Sacramento Bee. Advocates blame state and county budget cuts to mental health programs, combined with prison realignment and a shrinking number of state hospital beds. State prison inmates with mental illnesses increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2012.
In many counties, seriously mentally ill inmates routinely wait three to six months in jail before a state hospital bed opens up, said Randall Hagar of the California Psychiatric Association. He calls the situation, which he says has gotten worse in recent years, “tragic.” In Stanislaus County, the numbers of mentally ill inmates in the local jail increased nearly 50 percent in the past six years, according to sheriff’s department data. 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. As funds and services have disappeared, the number of people with mental illness landing behind bars has surged.