Incompetent defendants in Pennsylvania who sometimes wait for months in jail on minor charges, and others stuck indefinitely in forensic mental hospitals, may move quickly toward trials or long-term homes under a lawsuit settlement approved yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. A mentally ill person arrested for stealing three Peppermint Patties, as was one of the plaintiffs, “does not have to be sitting in a maximum security forensic hospital at $900 a day,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “It is a whole lot cheaper to provide him with the necessary support and care in the community than it is in a jail or mental hospital.”
Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said the settlement won't put violent defendants in communities, but will get some nonviolent people out of jammed mental hospitals by “making sure that they need to be in the forensic system, or they might be able to be served in another part of the system equally well or better.” The ACLU and Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arnold & Porter sued in October, claiming that incompetent defendants were languishing in jail awaiting transfers to the hospitals, while others sat in those hospitals for years. Some wait in solitary confinement in jails, and two people died awaiting transfer to the hospitals, according to the complaint. The case told stories like that of “E.M.,” a man in his mid-20s accused of public drunkenness and “patting a teenager on the behind,” who spent three years in custody, unable to establish competency. He was released only after his father sued.