Prosecutor, state reach agreement on mentally ill defendants
DENVER ” Special prosecutors and Colorado have a reached a settlement designed to prevent a backlog of mentally ill criminal defendants in jails waiting to be admitted to a state hospital, avoiding a contempt trial for two state officials.
Prosecutors Iris Eytan and Marcus Lock on Wednesday asked Denver District Martin Egelhoff for a hearing Feb. 22 to approve the agreement reached with the Colorado Department of Human Services, according to The Denver Post.
They had asked that Karen Beye, the new Human Services executive director, and Dr. John DeQuardo, the new superintendent of the hospital in Pueblo, be held in contempt for failing to treat the inmates. Their contempt trial had been scheduled to begin Feb. 26.
“I think the state is going to fulfill its obligation,” Eytan said. “There are still some minor terms we are trying to work out, but I think the state…has made serious efforts in curing this problem.”
Eytan and Lock, appointed prosecutors as part of a lawsuit, said criminal defendants remained in jails for months despite court orders saying they should be moved to the hospital. They said those found incompetent and those awaiting mental health evaluations were having their constitutional rights violated.
As many as 77 defendants found incompetent to stand trial were languishing in jail late last year.
State funding for mental health programs decreased over the years as lawmakers have tried to dig out of a financial quagmire.
In 2003 and 2004, $11 million was cut from the state mental health hospitals at Pueblo and Fort Logan and space for 103 patients was eliminated at both. The Fort Logan hospital in Denver does not treat those charged with crimes.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who represented Beye and DeQuardo, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“The Department of Human Services and our attorneys, with additional resources from the Joint Budget Committee, did an exceptional job of finding common ground in the dispute, while reducing the backlog for those in the mental health system,” Suthers said.
Eytan and Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Human Services Department, declined to release details of the agreement, pending the judge’s approval.
Eytan said two months of mediation was overseen by former Boulder District Judge Dan Hale.
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