A girl experiencing delusions sat in Montana’s Cascade County jail for 125 days whereas ready for a mattress on the state psychiatric hospital. A person with schizophrenia spent 100 days final yr in the Flathead County jail on the hospital’s waitlist, at occasions refusing meals and water. A person complaining of voices in his head was jailed for 19 months awaiting a psychological well being analysis.

Montana State Hospital’s forensic facility, which evaluates and treats sufferers in the prison justice system, has all the time had a waitlist, courtroom data present, however the pandemic has lengthened it. Consequently, folks have been behind bars for months on pending fees with out satisfactory psychological well being remedy.

Some have undergone lengthy stretches in solitary confinement as jail staffers have struggled to answer their wants. Others waited so lengthy that courts dropped the prison fees towards them altogether. Some have been arrested once more on extra severe fees.

In Montana, as elsewhere, psychological well being advocates, attorneys, and sheriffs say a part of the issue is a widespread lack of companies to assist folks with severe psychological sicknesses. So the prison justice system features because the catch basin for the nation’s restricted psychological well being system.

“The remedy system failed folks,” mentioned Matt Kuntz, director of the Montana chapter of the Nationwide Alliance on Psychological Sickness. “They’re locked in their thoughts, they usually’re locked in jail. It’s the saddest finish to a sequence of tragedies.”

The psychiatric hospital, overseen by the Montana Division of Public Well being and Human Companies, is under intense scrutiny after a federal investigation revealed that as the ability struggled with huge staffing shortages its major campus failed to guard sufferers from falls and covid-19, which led to a minimum of four deaths. The hospital’s federal funding is now in jeopardy.

Its forensic facility — just a few miles from the primary campus — doesn’t obtain federal cash, and so it wasn’t a part of that oversight. However staffing issues plague the forensic web site, too. As of March 14, everlasting staffers stuffed 46 of the ability’s 81 full-time positions, mentioned well being division spokesperson Jon Ebelt. Contract employees and hospital workers skilled for each the forensic web site and the primary campus helped plug among the gaps.

As of March 1, 71 folks have been ready for remedy or an analysis on the 54-bed forensic unit, Ebelt mentioned. Folks with an analysis in hand or these going through particularly severe prison fees could bounce forward in line.

In a single case, courtroom paperwork present, state officers wrote to Flathead County prosecutors they couldn’t “enterprise a guess as to when there can be a mattress accessible.” Attorneys have been making an attempt to get admitted Ilya Khmelev, who was identified with schizophrenia and had allegedly violated a restraining order.

After he spent 85 days in jail, a choose dismissed the fees towards Khmelev in June 2021, citing the hospital’s “unreasonable delay.” Inside days, he was arrested once more, this time for allegedly making an attempt to push his approach right into a home. He waited 15 days for a switch to the state hospital for remedy. A Kalispell choose dismissed that case in January as a result of Khmelev was deemed unfit for trial. Khmelev couldn’t be reached for remark. Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino mentioned caring for folks with a psychological sickness whereas they await trial or remedy strains detention staffers.

“Everyone is basically making an attempt to do all the pieces they’ll,” Heino mentioned, referring to jails, native psychological well being companies, and the state hospital. “The constraints on what number of psychological well being professionals we now have, that’s a difficulty throughout the board, a difficulty throughout the U.S. proper now.”

Some judges have rebuked the hospital for failing to fulfill its obligations.

In 2020, Cascade County District Courtroom Decide John Kutzman dismissed the case of Jose Remigio Zapata, who was ready in jail for a state analysis whereas going through fees of kid sexual abuse. “He’s presumed harmless and he has spent the final yr and 7 months in jail,” Kutzman wrote. “This practice wreck lies on the toes of the State Hospital.”

Remigio Zapata couldn’t be reached, and his attorneys declined to remark. The well being division declined a request for an interview with its director or the state hospital’s high boss. Ebelt mentioned staffing shortages on the hospital didn’t straight have an effect on the forensic unit’s waitlist. He blamed the growing delays on too few beds and psychiatrists, quite a few court-ordered admissions, and pandemic protocols.

As of March 16, the state reported only 63% of the forensic facility’s beds have been full regardless of its waitlist. Ebelt mentioned admissions are restricted as a result of items are damaged out by gender and beds could also be reserved for sufferers away for courtroom or medical appointments.

Lewis and Clark County Legal professional Leo Gallagher mentioned essentially the most frequent hang-up he’s seen as a prosecutor has been folks ready for an analysis by the state hospital, which assesses whether or not they’re mentally competent to face trial. Jurisdictions or defendants’ attorneys will pay for a neighborhood analysis as a substitute, however that requires cash and well being professionals.

“These of us might be parked in the county jail anyplace from six months to eight months,” Gallagher mentioned. “It’s been occurring for years. It has develop into extra acute recently.”

Shylah Hanway, now 20, was arrested in 2020 for allegedly exposing herself to a minor and spent almost 4 months on the hospital’s waitlist. A Cascade County choose had ordered the forensic unit to deal with her for disorganized schizophrenia.

Hanway, who continues to grapple with psychological well being points, declined to make a press release via her lawyer.

In that case, she spent massive chunks of time in solitary confinement in the Cascade County jail, data mentioned, at occasions refusing to bathe or dress herself, and never consuming for days. The preliminary fees towards her have been dropped after her legal professional argued the wait violated her proper to due course of. However earlier than that occurred, she was charged with a separate felony for allegedly punching a detention officer who tried to influence her to eat.

After 114 days, a mattress opened on the hospital. However as soon as launched from remedy, she was despatched again to jail to face the assault cost. Her lawyer, Daylon Martin, mentioned she nonetheless believed she was another person, a girl in her 30s with 23 children.

Hanway acquired out on bail in Might 2021 however was arrested once more the following month. This time she was accused of kidnapping a toddler who, in line with courtroom data, Hanway thought was her daughter. Once more, an analysis deemed she wanted remedy, and once more she went on the hospital’s waitlist, sitting in jail an extra 125 days.

“You set somebody with a psychological well being difficulty by themselves in a cell, they’re not getting what they want,” Martin mentioned. “They acquired worse ready to go to the state hospital.”

Cascade County Legal professional Josh Racki mentioned softer approaches are extra seemingly if somebody is charged with trespassing or damaging property. He mentioned issues get sophisticated if somebody with a psychological sickness harms one other individual.

“I perceive they’re mentally unwell, however I can’t simply allow them to go for concern that they are going to proceed to victimize others,” Racki mentioned.

Though violent crimes dedicated by folks with a psychological sickness often grab consideration, they’re rare. Folks with a psychological dysfunction are a lot more likely to be the target of a criminal offense than these with out.

State lawmakers are studying Montana’s prison dedication course of and have mentioned the necessity to recruit extra psychological well being suppliers and enhance oversight of the state hospital. However the subsequent legislative session isn’t till 2023.

In the meantime, Hanway, who already spent a lot of the previous two years on the hospital’s waitlist, is again in jail, this time on prison mischief and theft fees. As of March 16, she had been in jail for 22 days.

Katheryn Houghton: [email protected], @K_Hought