Montana inmates with mental illness languish in jail awaiting treatment before trial

Montana inmates with mental illness are waiting extensive periods in jail for necessary treatments which are required before they can stand trial, due to a bottleneck in services.

Highlighting the issue: One woman charged with burglary in 2022 has been waiting for months to receive required treatment at the Montana State Hospital’s forensic unit.
* In summer, the waiting list for this unit reached 70 people, even though the unit only has 54 beds.
* The jail where she’s currently held is not equipped to treat mental illness, and the staff can’t force inmates to take their prescribed medication.

Driving factors: The Montana State Hospital has struggled for years to manage the number of people who are criminally committed to the facility.
* The overcrowding has been driven by the state’s growing population, which has increased housing costs and subsequently homelessness and mental health issues.
* The pandemic has also contributed to the growth in people awaiting transfer to the hospital.

Legal debates and difficulties: To combat overcrowding at the Montana State Hospital, state health officials are calling for a change in the laws to give the Department of Public Health and Human Services more control before a judge orders a patient committed.
* Critics argue the focus should be on improving patient care, rather than denying access.
* Some legislators propose that patients should be committed to community care facilities as an alternative, but such facilities are currently lacking due to low Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Long-term implications: Inmates are frequently sent back to county jails after minimal time at the state hospital, making it difficult to stabilize them.
* Once back in local jails, inmates can refuse medication and mentally deteriorate further.
* A lack of community mental health resources often means that those who are released end up back in the jail system, perpetuating the cycle.

View original article on NPR

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