This class-action lawsuit is against Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner James V. Perdue on behalf of persons with severe mental illness who have been languishing in Alabama county jails awaiting court-ordered mental health services known as competency restoration treatment.
Under Alabama law, when a criminal defendant with severe mental illness is found unable to assist in his own defense and therefore incompetent to stand trial, the presiding judge orders that the individual be committed to the custody of the Alabama Department of Mental Health for therapy and treatment designed to restore that person to competency. The Department of Mental Health provides competency restoration treatment in Alabama’s sole state forensic hospital, the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility. Yet there is a long waiting list of persons who have been found incompetent to stand trial and who are waiting to be transferred from county jails to Taylor Hardin where they will receive restorative mental health treatment.
Alabama’s county jails currently do not, and cannot, provide competency restoration treatment to persons with severe mental illness. At most, county jails provide minimal mental health care, primarily in the form of basic medications. They are not equipped nor inclined to provide the care needed to address the severe and often-complicated forms of mental illness that can render persons incompetent to stand trial. While federal courts have found delays of longer than fourteen days unconstitutional, persons with severe mental illness who are deemed incompetent to stand trial in Alabama wait, on average, eight months to be transferred from county jails to Taylor Hardin for competency restoration treatment.
The lawsuit alleges that the Alabama Department of Mental Health has violated the Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by failing to provide the Plaintiffs timely competency restoration treatment.
The parties were able to work out a settlement agreement that requires the Department to meet specified timelines in evaluation and restoration.