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EDITORIAL: If a company can build a courthouse, why not more mental health beds?

The private sector can help governments address a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to construction. A public-private partnership is helping the state justice system meet one urgent building need, and such a relationship should be formed immediately to tackle another.

On Oct. 27, ground was broken on a $20 million downtown courthouse for the Nevada Supreme Court and the state’s new Court of Appeals. The new building, which is expected to open at the corner of Clark Avenue and Fourth Street in downtown Las Vegas by the end of next year, will allow the courts to move out of the Clark County Regional Justice Center at a net savings to taxpayers.

That’s because the 26,100-square-foot courthouse will be built and owned by LV Land Company LLC, part of the firm that developed Tivoli Village and Queensridge Place just east of Summerlin. The courts will pay $640,000 per year to rent the building, less than what they pay now for space at the RJC. The state will save about $400,000 over the next decade thanks to the arrangement. Although the county will lose a paying tenant for the RJC, the move will free up space at the RJC for District, Justice and Municipal courts to grow, and it will generate property tax revenue for the city.

On Wednesday, the justice system was reminded of a far more urgent lack of capacity: Nevada’s inability to provide prompt treatment to mentally ill defendants. U.S. District Judge Miranda M. Du determined the state was in violation of a 2014 lawsuit settlement that required Nevada’s justice system, effective Sept. 1, to provide treatment to inmates within a week of them being found incompetent to stand trial. Today such inmates typically remain in jail for three to four months before they’re transferred to Lake’s Crossing in Sparks, the state’s lone maximum security mental health facility.

The state is turning the closed Stein Hospital, near Charleston and Jones boulevards, into a 47-bed facility that’s expected to be comparable to Lake’s Crossing. It’s supposed to open in two weeks. But even if that facility opens on schedule, it’s doubtful that the state can meet the terms of the lawsuit settlement — in the short term or the long term. Nevada’s overwhelmed mental health infrastructure is that inadequate.

The state needs to empower the private sector to prevent the further violation of inmates’ rights. Private hospitals already provide some mental health care in the valley. Whatever the justice system lacks, a business can build — much faster, much cheaper — and rent back to the state. Nevada can’t wait much longer for a mental health solution. If the state doesn’t act, the courts will.

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