CO Faces Acute Backlog in Mental Competency Exams

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People with mental illness who are accused of crimes in Colorado are waiting up to four times as long as legally allowed for evaluations and treatment because the system is so overwhelmed, reports the Denver Post. The state is bound by a 2012 lawsuit settlement to conduct mental competency evaluations or begin treatment for people found incompetent to stand trial within 28 days of a judge’s order. But for the second time in six months, the state says it is failing to meet the requirements of the federal settlement. Court orders for mental competency evaluations are outpacing capacity, clogging the system and forcing people to languish longer in lock-up, according to a legal letter written by the Colorado Department of Human Services.

In June 2016, the system received 146 competency evaluation orders and 54 orders for “restoration,” which is mental health treatment to restore people found incompetent so that they can then face charges. A year later, in June, the system received 215 competency orders and 93 restoration orders — increases of 47 percent and 72 percent, respectively. The numbers remain high. State officials would not say how long people are waiting–only that wait times fluctuate depending on bed availability and that some have waited longer than the settlement requires. Colorado plans to spend $20 million to address the backlog, partly by adding dozens more mental health beds in jail and at the state mental hospital.

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