A Clark County judge is considering a request to hold the state of Nevada in contempt of court for failing to provide prompt treatment to mentally ill inmates.
District Judge Jennifer Togliatti, who handles competency cases, heard arguments on the matter Friday and said she will issue a written decision.
During the hearing, Deputy Public Defender Christy Craig represented a dozen inmates who have been found incompetent to stand trial. Craig said Togliatti previously ordered the state to transport them “forthwith” to Lake’s Crossing Center in Sparks, the state’s only maximum-security psychiatric facility, for “prompt restorative treatment.”
“They violated this court’s order,” Craig argued. “This court must hold them in contempt in some way.”
She said state officials agreed that by Sept. 1 they would provide treatment to defendants within seven days of receiving a court’s order, but the inmates in question will have waited more than 100 days by the time their scheduled transfer dates arrive.
Craig said Clark County is paying $135 a day to house each of the inmates while they wait for transportation to the state facility in Sparks.
“It’s a burden on the county,” she argued.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Susanne Sliwa said state officials have “been working tirelessly to alleviate this problem.”
“We have not been willfully disobedient to the court’s order,” she argued.
Sliwa said it is unreasonable to expect the state to transport inmates to a facility that does not have space for them.
Togliatti wondered aloud why the state agreed to provide treatment within seven days when it does not have the ability to do so. The state currently puts Clark County inmates on a flight to Northern Nevada only once every two weeks.
“Why agree to something that’s a fantasy at this point?” the judge asked.
Sliwa said the state plans to open a new psychiatric facility in Las Vegas on Nov. 15.
“The plan was always to get forensic beds down here,” she said.
Craig said the southern facility originally was scheduled to open in September, and she expects only a few beds to become available once it does open.
Togliatti asked what Craig was seeking with her contempt request and said she does not think a finding of criminal contempt would be appropriate.
“I’m not putting Betsy Neighbors in jail,” the judge said.
Neighbors is the director of Lake’s Crossing.
Craig asked the judge to specify that “forthwith” means within seven days, but Togliatti said a federal judge already made that ruling.
If the state cannot transport the inmates “forthwith,” Craig argued, Togliatti should dismiss their charges. Craig already has filed separate motions to dismiss, and the judge has set a related hearing for Oct. 16.
Craig said about 58 Clark County Detention Center inmates were awaiting transfers to Lake’s Crossing as of Monday.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.