- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada officials reached a settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit against them, agreeing to reduce the amount of time inmates must wait for mental evaluations and treatment at a Sparks psychiatric hospital.

The settlement with the Clark County public defender’s office, filed Jan. 29, calls for waits of just one week by September 2015. Late last year, a 49-person backlog forced inmates to wait an average of 85 days to be admitted to Lake’s Crossing hospital.

“It’s exactly what we wanted,” Clark County Deputy Public Defender Christy Craig, lead attorney in the lawsuit, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/1eUp1kt ). “We can’t get any better until they build a facility in southern Nevada.”

Lake’s Crossing is the only hospital in Nevada where doctors can perform court-ordered mental evaluations that determine whether a person is competent for trial. Detainees awaiting evaluations are often kept in jail cells for 23 hours a day, according to the lawsuit, and have a higher risk of suicide and a lower likelihood of achieving mental stability the longer they wait.

The suit also argued that delays impair the ability of defense attorneys to effectively represent their clients.

The settlement sets out benchmarks for reducing wait times. Beginning March 30, the state must treat detainees within three weeks of a court ordering a mental evaluation. That timeframe drops to two weeks in January 2015, and one week in September 2015.

State officials must provide periodic updates to the public defender’s office on how long inmates are waiting, Craig said.

The agreement calls for other improvements including the renovation of Stein Hospital, a shuttered facility on the campus of Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas.

When renovations are complete, Stein Hospital will have enough beds for 42 mentally ill offenders.

The extra beds will reduce the need for the state to fly inmates from more populous southern Nevada to Sparks.

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com