Inmates with mental illness can wait months to get into a state hospital

Another marker of the mental health crisis confronting the criminal justice system: growing numbers of inmates are waiting for state hospital beds, sometimes for months at a time. In the past five years, the number of California inmates deemed incompetent to stand trial and ordered sent to state hospitals increased 60 percent. Judges refer defendants to a state hospital when doctors determine the accused are unable to understand legal proceedings or cooperate with their attorneys.

But the result has been a backlog. Over the same period, the number of Californians deemed incompetent to stand trial and awaiting placement has soared 139 percent.

A few decades ago, fewer than half of state hospital patients came from the criminal justice system. Today, more than 90 percent do.

“That is a sad state of affairs in our society, that only when you get locked up does it become a priority to get you treatment,” said Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey.