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'Grossly insufficient': ACLU suing state over mental health services for defendants deemed incompetent

Prison bars
Posted at 4:36 PM, May 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 09:39:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The ACLU of Indiana is suing the state over "grossly inadequate" mental health services for inmates deemed incompetent to stand trial, a problem that has left more than a dozen people languishing for months without treatment in the Marion County Jail.

In an 11-page federal lawsuit, the ACLU and Indiana Disability Rights claim the Family and Social Services Administration and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction is violating the civil rights of some severely mentally ill defendants by forcing jails to act as holding facilities for people in dire need of treatment.

"Holding the prisoners in county jails indefinitely because the defendants fail to maintain sufficient placements for restoration services causes injury to the prisoners who are denied necessary mental health services and who are held in legal limbo for extended periods of time," attorneys wrote in the complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission, claims that at least 17 inmates found incompetent to stand trial are currently being held in the Marion County Jail awaiting a bed in a treatment facility.

Ray Lay, commissioner of the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission, said he has been through the justice system's competency restoration process and "I am proof that treatment can be effective, and recovery is possible."

"Simply sitting in jail is not treatment and allows mental health conditions to fester or worsen,” Lay said in a statement. "The individuals currently not receiving treatment are someone's child, father, mother, brother, or sister. We need to do better and the time to do this is now."

In their complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, attorney said the FSSA and DMHA are not living up to the state's obligation to treat these defendants.

"The Division of Mental Health and Addiction has grossly insufficient capacity to provide restoration services to those committed for those services," attorneys say in the complaint.

The ACLU is asking a federal judge to order the state to "immediately place prisoners who have been committed to the (DMHA) into appropriate placements where competency restoration services can be provided or to otherwise provide them with appropriate restoration services."

"These are individuals who the courts have found to lack the capacity to stand trial due to mental illness or disability, yet they are being left to languish in county jails, a completely inappropriate placement," Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. "Leaving these folks in county jails for extended periods of time, without access to restorative services, is not only a violation of the law but is also immensely harmful to their health."

Last year, according to the Marion County court administrator, Marion County judges found 97 people were incompetent to stand trial, which means they were not mentally sound enough to understand the nature of the charges against them or to assist lawyers in their defense.

Those in jail waited an average of 121 days, about four months, for a bed in an inpatient mental health facility, the lawsuit says. Three Marion County defendants were jailed more than 200 days while they waited for treatment, according to the suit.

According tot he lawsuit, more than 40 people are waiting for beds in the Logansport State Hospital, which is where the state sends defendants for competency restoration treatment when they face the most serious crimes.

"There are severe bed shortages in the other Division of Mental Health and Addiction institutions that provide restoration services and there are an inadequate number of operational community or facility-based restoration services with the capacity to meet the demand to timely provide the services," lawyers say in the suit.

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on Twitter: @vicryc.