Settlement reached in Colorado competency evaluations lawsuit

Disability Law Colorado and the Colorado Department of Human Services announced a settlement in a federal lawsuit August 12, which accused the state of unconstitutionally long delays in its process for facilitating competency evaluations for people faced with criminal charges.

In 2011, Disability Law Colorado sued the state, accusing it of regularly confining people with disabilities in county jails for months – sometimes for more than six months – while awaiting evaluations to determine if they can stand trial.

The lawsuit prompted a settlement, forcing the state to set a 28-day admission deadline for such evaluations and submit monthly reports to the advocacy group.

In October 2015, Disability Law Colorado moved to re-open the settlement, alleging that the state changed its admissions policy to Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, where evaluations are conducted. Specifically, it alleged that the Institute began allowing just one admission per day, creating a backlog of more than 100 individuals.

“It’s unfortunate that we were provided incorrect data months ago when we could have assisted the Department in minimizing the deleterious effects caused to the people with serious mental illness who have a fundamental right to treatment and restoration in a reasonable time frame,” said Mark Ivandick, managing attorney for Disability Law Colorado, in a news release. “The State should not be surprised by another long wait list, as they have not done much to get ahead of the longstanding problem going back decades of staffing shortages and an increase in referrals.”

Under the agreement, the state must hire an independent consultant to oversee the original agreement, according to a Disability Rights Colorado news release.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado will maintain jurisdiction over the agreement for at least another two and a half years.

“We are especially gratified to have an independent consultant on board to ensure that persons with mental illness will not go without timely competency evaluations and restorative treatment,” Iris Eytan, an attorney with Disability Law Colorado, told the Denver Post.

Read more about legal action taken regarding similar competency evaluation delays in Washington state by Disability Rights Washington, the parent organization of Rooted in Rights.

Disability Law Colorado and Disability Rights Washington are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Colorado and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.