In 2012, as Wake County, N.C., prepared to get out of the business of providing mental health services, county officials said private companies would do a better job of helping those with mental illness, disability or addiction. A year after privatization, there is a crevice where the county's mental health treatment system meets the criminal justice system, says the Raleigh News & Observer. As a result of errors and miscommunication, some people with mental illnesses or disabilities arrested for nonviolent offenses have been jailed for months in Wake County, waiting for court-ordered psychological evaluations that might help set them free and lead to better treatment.
The evaluations are supposed to take seven days. Judges order the tests to determine whether the inmates are capable of proceeding to trial. Once an evaluation has been ordered, no matter how long it takes, the criminal case is essentially suspended. Those charged can't be tried, and they can't be released. In many cases, the results of the evaluations cause prosecutors to dismiss charges. “It's turned into a nightmare” for some defendants, said Emily Mistr of the Wake County Public Defender's Office. Because of the delays, she said, disabled and mentally ill clients may spend more time in jail waiting on evaluations than they would if they were convicted and sentenced for the crime with which they are charged.