- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

RICHMOND About 20 Virginians found not guilty of misdemeanors by reason of insanity were released from state mental hospitals after serving an average of eight years on such charges as trespassing and petty larceny.
A law that took effect July 1 limits the time such people can spend in a mental hospital to a year. People without mental illness who are convicted of misdemeanors usually serve much less than the maximum one year in jail.
Previously, those found not guilty by reason of insanity on misdemeanor charges could be held indefinitely in state mental hospitals.
Among those released was a man who was held at the prisonlike forensic unit at Central State Hospital and at other state hospitals for nearly a decade because he cursed a court clerk over the telephone. Others were locked up for public drunkenness, spitting in public, breaking a window, trespassing, minor theft and misdemeanor assault.
Judges approved the release of 21 of the 38 misdemeanor patients held in state-run hospitals under the old law, the state mental health department said.
Of the 21, 19 were placed in communities under the care and supervision of community service boards, local agencies that provide care for the mentally ill. Two remain in hospitals awaiting placement, department spokeswoman Martha Mead said Monday. One patient is awaiting a court hearing.
So far, one of the 19 patients has been returned to a hospital because of "mild disruptive behavior," said clinical psychologist James J. Morris, director of forensic services for the department.
Judges refused to release 16 patients because they still pose a danger to themselves or others. The law permits the state to continue holding misdemeanants who are deeply psychotic, suicidal or dangerous.
Mr. Morris said the freed patients were considered clinically stable and "of reduced risk sufficient to allow them to be recommended to courts for conditional release."
The patients have conditions on their release that include where they may live, the type of treatment they receive, compliance with their medication regimen and no access to firearms, illegal drugs or alcohol. Their release can be revoked if they violate any of the conditions, Mr. Morris said.
Most were placed in jobs that they had held before their release. Typically, family members agree to support the individual in the community by providing transportation and visiting regularly, Mr. Morris said.
In addition, a case manager closely monitors each of those released. Most suffer from schizophrenia, which can be controlled by psychiatric medications.
Nine persons found not guilty of misdemeanors by reason of insanity have been sent to state hospitals under the new law. The earliest any of them would be released is the spring, Mr. Morris said.
The 2002 General Assembly approved the release of such patients based on a study and recommendation of the Virginia State Crime Commission.

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