- Associated Press - Monday, May 4, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Colorado is on course for millions in fines as mentally ill people accused of crimes languish in jails awaiting services, an official said.

Colorado Department of Human Services figures show the number of the most severely ill pretrial detainees on a wait list for competency restoration doubled in mid-April, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Gazette reported Saturday.

The delays are poised to put the department in continued violation of a federally enforced civil agreement carrying penalties of up to $10 million per year.

“It’s going to have a significant impact on fines for the state,” said Robert Werthwein, director of the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health.

Werthwein did not provide an estimate of fines the state is likely to pay this year, but said they will exceed the previously projected $2.5 million.



State administrators were initially confident they could hold down fines to $2.5 million, citing progress including shrinking the wait list for competency evaluations, Werthwein said.

Delays associated with the coronavirus pandemic derailed the state’s ability to meet some court-ordered deadlines, particularly for inpatient restoration, he said.

The state Department of Human Services agreed in March 2019 to overhaul its evaluation and treatment of mentally ill criminal defendants. Disability Law Colorado sued in 2011 in federal court over years of widespread delays that kept mentally ill people behind bars waiting for services.

“We were trending in the right direction, is how I would put it,” Werthwein said. “Unfortunately, since COVID-19, the waitlist went up.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide