Texas violating due process rights of mentally ill prisoners, judge rules

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A state judge ruled January 24 that Texas is violating its state constitution by routinely holding prisoners in jail for extended periods after they’ve been deemed unable to stand trial due to mental illness.

During the past two years, the state has forced inmates to remain in prison for an average of six months while waiting for a bed in a psychiatric hospital. With the judge’s ruling, the state must transfer inmates within 21 days.

“I’m happy that the judge ruled it was a violation to keep people in jail when what they needed is treatment. Right now what we’re doing is criminalizing the mentally ill,” said Disability Rights Texas lawyer Beth Mitchell, in an article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Disability Rights Texas filed a lawsuit against the state in 2007.

On average during the past two years, 400 inmates are waiting for a placement at the state hospitals, which hold about 800 patients.

A significant portion of these inmates are not dangerous, Mitchell told the American-Statesman.

About half the individuals waiting for spots in the hospital have been charged only with misdemeanors.

Disability Rights Texas is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.