Texas routinely violates the constitutional rights of mentally incompetent prisoners by forcing them to stay in jail for up to six months before moving them to psychiatric hospitals, a judge ruled this week. State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo ruled that the Department of State Health Services must start moving “forensic commitments” — people accused of crimes who have been ruled incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness — to state psychiatric hospitals within 21 days of receiving a judge’s order, reports the Austin American-Statesman.
Over the past two years , the average prisoner spent six months in jail waiting for a hospital bed, the ruling states. “Keeping incompetent pretrial criminal defendants confined in county jail for unreasonable periods of time violates the incompetent detainees’ due process rights as guaranteed by the Texas Constitution,” Naranjo wrote. The ruling stems from a 2007 lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Texas, a federally funded organization that advocates for people with disabilities, including mental illness. In that lawsuit, the group claimed that the health department regularly refuses to take forensic commitments because the hospitals do not have space for them.