weather icon Partly Cloudy
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Mentally ill sent for treatment instead abandoned in jail

At least six mental health patients have been held in the Clark County jail — some for as long as three months — when they should have been placed in mental health group homes.

Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services has blocked their release at least since December because it could no longer afford to pay for inpatient beds and treatment for new patients.

But state mental health officials never informed District Judge Linda Bell or the defendants’ lawyers, which left the patients lingering in jail for months where they receive little, if any, mental health treatment.

In lieu of prison the patients were sentenced to probation for various nonviolent crimes and enrolled in Bell’s mental health court, which aims to get defendants into treatment.

Because it appears unlikely that Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services will have the money to place the patients in group homes for the remainder of the fiscal year, Bell may have to decide whether to release the inmates without treatment because the state has failed to keep its end of the bargain.

“It’s a complicated mess,” deputy public defender Christy Craig said. “They’ve known since December and it’s February and they never bothered to tell anyone.”

One patient, Linda Walsten, 63, was to have been released to a group home in November, but instead has sat in jail for 105 days, court records show.

Walsten in October took a plea deal from prosecutors and was found guilty of attempted grand larceny. She was arrested March 8 after snatching a satchel from a tourist at The Mirage on the Strip.

As part of her sentence, Walsten was diverted to Bell’s specialty mental health court, which aims to get nonviolent offenders out of the Clark County Detention Center and provide guidance and treatment to prevent them from re-offending — all while saving tax dollars.

But court records show that since Nov. 7 Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services has said it could not place Walsten in a group home.

Craig had issued subpoenas to officials, seeking answers. Until Friday, there was no explanation given for keeping Walsten and others in jail, where it costs $140 per day, plus medication, to house a mentally ill person.

Jose Marcos Perez, the Mental Health Services clinic director, testified in Bell’s court Friday that the service has seen a high volume of patients receiving residential medical services and doesn’t have the budget to add new patients, even though Bell’s mental health court has continued to send them there.

One patient, Carmen Winslow, 44, has waited in jail for a group home for 77 days, even though state mental health officials were aware they could not place her in one. Winslow was arrested on Dec. 16, 2012, after she was found suffering from a gunshot wound and carrying an un­registered 9 mm pistol at a 7-11 on North Lamb Boulevard, near Stewart Avenue. It’s not clear how Winslow was wounded.

Perez further explained there might not be enough money for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in July, to place patients like Winslow and Walsten in group homes.

He added he wasn’t “obligated” to let Bell know, though he said he had let social workers who work closely with mental health court know.

Bell appeared distressed and angry at the explanations from the state mental health officials. At one point she abruptly stopped the tense proceedings, took a break, then resumed the hearing.

She eventually decided the parties should come back for more testimony about the problem on March 7.

Perez said that some of the patients in jail could receive outpatient services and suggested they may have other places to stay besides a group home.

But Craig said 95 percent of the defendants who enter mental health court have nowhere to turn besides the streets. The remainder are taken in by family or other arrangements are made, depending on their financial situation.

Afterward, Craig said Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services social workers are supposed to help arrange post-jail, long-term care for the patients.

“The whole goal is to get the mentally ill services, to get them into long-term treatment, get their social services started, and teach them coping skills or ways to deal with their problems,” Craig said.

If not, the patients would likely end up homeless.

The mentally ill get no therapy in jail and are given only a few days’ supply of medications when they are released.

Craig was incensed during the hearing, noting that had Perez not been subpoenaed, her clients could have sat in jail until July, or maybe longer, before their status was known.

Craig asked Bell to subpoena Perez’s boss, Ellen Richardson-Adams, deputy administrator of clinical services for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, and other state officials to testify at the next hearing.

She also asked Bell to order an audit of Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services for the past six years. The judge said she would rule on that request later.

Craig said that the Legislature allocates a specific amount of money to Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services to be used for mental health court. In the fiscal years 2009 and 2010, that budget was $1.4 million. It dropped to $697,000 in 2013, Craig said.

No one informed the court, she said.

Financial help may soon be available. State spokeswoman Mary Woods said late Friday the Legislature’s interim finance committee on Feb. 6 approved $4.5 million in grants and other funds to cover 350 new slots for mental health housing.

But Craig said Bell may have no choice but to release Walsten and the others without getting them into the group homes.

The lawyer explained that Walsten has already been in jail for almost a year. Her underlying sentence if she had failed mental health court was a one- to three-year prison term.

“If she was sent to prison, she’d already have been released,” Craig said.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan. Here’s what it means

It’s a move that some advocates have long sought as a way to improve access to a life-saving drug, though the exact impact will not be clear immediately.