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Wiggins law on treating inmates awaits Arnold
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Register Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007
A bill before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could lighten the load for Napa County Jail when it comes to dealing with mentally ill inmates — but observers say even the need for a measure to allow jailers to forcibly medicate inmates shows the state mental health system is in crisis.

SB 568, authored by state Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, makes it legal for staff at county jails to make prescription medication available for inmates found incompetent to stand trial. A doctor could prescribe medication for the inmate and jail staff would be in charge of making it available for them.
The measure is designed to solve temporary problems at jails as they wait for the opportunity to transfer inmates to facilities such as Napa State Hospital. Napa State, which has special programs for those found incompetent to stand trial, including individualized medication and mock court training.

Administrators at some jails, including in Sonoma County, have complained that they have limited capabilities to deal with unstable inmates and yet are sometimes told there is no room for the inmates at Napa State.

find often that they must wait before they can transfer them.

“The reality is, more and more mentally ill are being housed in jails, which by definition are not treatment facilities,” Wiggins said in a prepared statement. “This bill serves as an interim measure and the county jails have assured me they have no intention of becoming mental hospitals.”

Public defenders throughout Northern California have long been frustrated by a waiting list at Napa State Hospital for clients that need to undergo treatment before they are ready to stand trial as competent adults.

Waits can sometimes be a matter of months, even the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which interprets federal law for western states including California, said in a 2003 case, Oregon Advocacy Center v. Mink, that waits shouldn’t be longer than seven days.

“As someone who works for the government, I’m sorry the resources are so taxed,” said Barry Melton, Yolo County public defender and SB 568 representative for the California Public Defender’s Association. “However, the law is the law and California has to follow the law, particularly when it comes to federal constitutional standards.”

The U.S. Constitution bans holding inmates indefinitely without a speedy trial. Public defenders have in some cases invoked the Due Process Clause to force their clients to the front of waiting lists to get into the state mental health system.

Despite Melton’s assertion, he backed off opposing the bill because proponents included a requirement that a doctor determine whether a person can be properly medicated in jail.

“Just because you supply somebody medication doesn’t mean you’re treating them,” Melton said, pointing out the benefits of mock trial training at Napa State Hospital. “I don’t think it’s the kind of long term fix that’s going to work. Yes, we withdrew our opposition ... but we never supported the bill.”

Melton said the state mental health system is in danger of suffering the same fate as the state prison system, which has fallen under federal court dictates to try and solve overcrowding issues.

Wiggins said she never intended for the bill to solve overcrowding issues in the state mental hospital system.

“The Oregon case raises some critical issues, but we can’t wait for, or speculate about, the outcome” on further appeal, she said in a statement. “Delays in treatment for defendants who are seriously mentally ill can pose problems not only for the defendants, but for people around them as well. My bill seeks to narrow the gap between diagnosis and treatment.”

Schwarzenegger has until midnight, Oct. 12 to sign or veto the bill before it automatically becomes law without his signature. His staff has not indicated what he will do.
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1 comment(s)

Tax Payer wrote on Sep 27, 2007 9:21 AM:

" If Wiggins is pushing this there is sure to be a union getting the benefits. "

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