Missourians who are arrested, deemed unfit to stand trial and ordered into mental health treatment are detained in jail for an average of eight months before being transferred to a mental health facility, News From The States reports. That’s “some good news,” Nora Bock, director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Division of Behavioral Health, said during a monthly mental health commission meeting where she shared the new number. That’s because, Bock said, the mid-September wait time is down from July, when it stood at 11 months. “None of that is really good in the big picture, but it is a decrease,” she said. “So we will take the wins where we can get them.” For years, the state has struggled to transfer people from jails into mental hospitals once they are found to be incompetent to stand trial, in part because of a lack of hospital beds and an increase in referrals.
Those patients are supposed to be moved to receive rehabilitative mental health services that allow them to become competent to stand trial, a process called competency restoration. Instead, they languish in jails — often solitary confinement because they must be isolated from the incarcerated population — without having been found guilty of any crime. The problem is not unique to Missouri. There have been recent high-profile lawsuits against holding those needing mental health services in jail in states including Indiana, Kansas and Pennsylvania, arguing that long wait times are unconstitutional because they deprive people of due process. In 2003, after a group of disability rights advocates in Oregon sued, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the limit on holding patients in jail should be 7 days before it violates the constitution.