Lawsuit alleges incompetent defendants not getting mental health services they need

Editor’s note: This article has been updated

The Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Indiana Disability Rights, has filed a lawsuit alleging individuals found not competent to stand trial are being left to languish in county jails rather than receiving mental health services as required by law.

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction has the obligation to provide restorative treatment to defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial. However, the agency has “grossly insufficient capacity” and prisoners are being denied mental health services and “held in legal limbo” for long periods of time.

The lawsuit – Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission v. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration; Division of Mental Health and Addiction; Secretary, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, in his official capacity; Director, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, in his official capacity, 1:22-cv-906  – asserts the “indefinite confinement” violates due process. Also, the failure to provide restoration services in a timely manner violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C § 12101, et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794.

As a remedy, the IPAS Commission is seeking an injunction requiring the defendants to “immediately place prisoners” committed to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction into appropriate placements where they can receive competency restoration services.

Ray Lay is a commissioner on the IPAS Commission and the founder and owner of the founder and owner of SMI Enterprises. According to its website, SMI Enterprises is a “peer support specialist” for veterans who have mental health or substance abuse issues.

“I am a person who has been through the competency restoration process. I am proof that treatment can be effective, and recovery is possible. Simply sitting in jail is not treatment and allows mental health conditions to fester or worsen,” Lay said in a press release. “The individuals currently not receiving treatment are someone’s child, father, mother, brother, or sister. We need to do better and the time to do this is now.”

The Family and Social Services Administration declined to comment on pending litigation.

Under Indiana Code § 35-36-3-1, when a criminal defendant has been found to lack the mental capacity to assist in his or her own defense, the trial will be continued and the defendant will be committed to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction. The Division is charged with either providing the competency restoration services or contracting with an outside vendor to provide those services.

According to the complaint, the Division sends defendants charged with serious crimes and found incompetent to the Isaac Ray Unit at Logansport State Hospital. Other incompetent defendants may be sent to other institutions.

If the institution does not have sufficient space, the defendants will have to wait in the county jail until a bed becomes available.

The complaint states that as of May 5, 2022, at least 18 defendants in the Marion County Jail have been committed to the Division for restoration services but are not receiving those services because the institutions do not have the space.

Defendants are having to wait an average of 121.4 days between the commitment order and being moved to a state hospital, according to the complaint. Three defendants have had to wait more than 200 days.

The complaint alleges that incompetent defendants housed in other county jails around the state have similar experiences: They are committed to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction but have to remain in the jails where they do not receive restoration services because the institutions have any open beds.

“These are individuals who the courts have found to lack the capacity to stand trial due to mental illness or disability, yet they are being left to languish in county jails, a completely inappropriate placement,” Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, said in a press release. “Leaving these folks in county jails for extended period of time, without access to restorative services, is not only a violation of the law but immensely harmful to their health.”

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