General Assembly Sets Sights on Inmate Psych Beds

Lawmakers are pledging to address the shortage of mental health beds for inmates court ordered to residential psychiatric treatment during the 2018 general assembly session.

The lack of state hospital treatment beds — an issue which has been inadequately addressed for years — has resulted in defendants in need of psychiatric treatment being held in jails for weeks awaiting a bed.

An article from The Washington Post reports that funding, staffing, and the wait time in jail before transfer to a state hospital will all be tackled by the legislature. Additionally the governor’s 2019 fiscal budget will include money for more beds.

Long waits for treatment for such inmates have been a persistent problem in Maryland and across the country. A 2016 survey of 25 states by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit based in Arlington, found that 1,956 inmates with serious mental illnesses were waiting for beds in psychiatric hospitals after being ordered by a court to get treatment.

Advocates and correctional officers attribute the long waits to more people with mental illnesses being arrested and state officials shifting resources away from psychiatric hospital beds. The wait list tends to grow during the summer and drop during the winter.

Earlier this year, a judge held Department of Health officials in contempt of court for failing to adequately address the crisis. The Department of Health has been working on increasing the number of mental health treatment beds and reorganizing their internal structure for managing the court ordered placements. As the Post article notes the waitlist for a bed has dropped from a high of 84 when that lawsuit was filed, to 14 as of December 2017.

For more information:

Lawmakers to address shortage of psychiatric beds for jail inmates who need hospitalization (The Washington Post)

Related coverage from Conduit Street:

Treatment Placements, Drug Courts, and More Raised at Oversight Board Meeting

State Health Officials Held in Contempt Over Psych Beds