- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A federal judge is ordering Nevada to meet its commitments to provide treatment within seven days for mentally ill jail inmates needing psychiatric treatment and evaluations to determine if they’re competent to stand trial.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas warned from the bench on Wednesday that she might appoint an independent monitor by the end of November if the state doesn’t comply, according to court records. The judge is being asked to find the state in contempt for failing to meet terms of a January 2014 consent decree.

Margaret McLetchie, a lawyer representing three former prison detainees who sued in 2013 alleging their constitutional rights to due process were being violated, said Friday the issue has been unresolved since 2005 and oversight is needed.

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said the state can’t just say they don’t have the funds, the staffing and the beds to avoid violating people’s constitutional rights,” McLetchie said. “We’re talking about locking up mentally ill people without being convicted, and we’re making them worse by having them languish in jail.”

Nevada officials acknowledge a backlog of patients need treatment at the only current state facility, the 76-bed Lakes Crossing Center in Sparks.

They say they’re trying to meet the decree’s goals, and point to plans to begin opening the 47-bed Stein Hospital treatment center in Las Vegas in mid-November to handle court-referred psychiatric patients.

State Department of Health and Human services spokeswoman Christy Main told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week that the state has also added 20 beds at its Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Center to treat jail detainees.

Main didn’t immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press.

A January 2014 “plan of action” provided by the state also described a jail assessment program to divert some misdemeanor detainees from the 3,400-bed Clark County jail into community hospital treatment.

The issue is most acute in Las Vegas, where Deputy Clark County Public Defender Christy Craig estimated that about 40 prisoners currently await transfer to Lakes Crossing, Rawson-Neal or Stein.

Craig said wait times for seven prisoners flown to Lakes Crossing earlier this month were between 90 and 125 days. Flights are typically made monthly, and are booked through February, she said.

McLetchie said some prisoners who go untreated remain in isolation in jail longer than the six months they would have spent behind bars if they were found guilty of a misdemeanor.

The seven-day target was set in 2008 to settle a 2005 federal lawsuit brought by the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center.

The state also promised to provide more services to help mentally ill prisoners restore their ability to understand charges against them, assist in their defense and stand trial.

Craig said the state got close to the seven-day target by 2011, but never reached it.

“And the numbers began going up again,” Craig said Friday. “Clearly, without oversight, there’s no pressure on them. They’ve had a year and 10 months to meet the (January 2014) benchmarks.”

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