ProPublica takes a close look at the case of Tyler Haire, a Mississippian arrested in 2012 at age 16 for attacking his father’s girlfriend with a knife. A judge ordered a mental examination of the teen, who had a history of psychological problems. It took years for that to happen. As Haire celebrated his 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays in the jail, the local sheriff, Greg Pollan, served as the young man’s only vigilant advocate. Every month, Pollan called the state hospital in Whitfield for an update on where Tyler stood on the waiting list for one of the 15 beds in the hospital’s forensic unit, which handled psychiatric evaluations in criminal cases.
On Jan. 13, 2014, the state hospital said it should be able to admit Haire “in two weeks,” according to a note in his case file. It would take another two and a half years. Haire didn’t fall through any cracks. Records suggests that Mississippi may well have the worst record of any state for prolonged stays in jail for inmates awaiting the most basic psychiatric evaluation. A copy of the state’s wait list shows that as of August 2017, 102 defendants — accused but not convicted of crimes — were waiting in county jails for forensic evaluations. One had waited 1,249 days. The problem is not limited to Mississippi. In 2014, 31 of 40 states said wait times for forensic services for criminal defendants were worsening, and 19 said they’d been threatened with legal action or found in contempt of court for long delays.