Law Firm Sues State of Maryland Over Jailed Mentally Ill Defendants
Maryland Accused of Civil Rights Violation Against Mentally Ill
One of Washington’s biggest law firms is seeking class action status for a lawsuit it filed recently that would force the state of Maryland to transfer mentally-ill defendants from jail to medical treatment facilities.
The pro bono lawsuit filed by Venable is supported by Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender, which represents the four inmates named as plaintiffs, according to a report by The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net).
Three of them are charged with attempted murder and the other with arson. All four of them were declared mentally-incompetent by court order after a judge determined they were a threat to themselves or others.
They were supposed to be incarcerated at the Clifton T. Perkins maximum security forensic hospital in Howard County.
However, overcrowding at state mental hospitals compelled the courts to keep them and 81 other defendants declared mentally incompetent in jails instead.
Defense attorneys say using jails for mentally ill persons, many of whom suffer from paranoia, could worsen their conditions. In addition, they could be ridiculed and tormented by other inmates.
The Venable lawsuit names the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DMMH) and its secretary, Van T. Mitchell, as defendants. Officials from the department have said previously they lack the funding and staff to handle all the state’s mentally ill criminal defendants.
The Venable lawsuit says DMMH failed in its clear legal obligation to provide treatment for mentally incompetent inmates.
Rather than complying with these court orders, the lawsuit says, DHMH requires mentally ill persons to languish unlawfully in jail or detention facilities.
In a few isolated cases, DMMH officials succeeded in finding space in a DHMH facility for preferred patients but neglected many others, the complaint says.
The Venable attorneys are trying to find other cases in Maryland of mentally ill defendants who remain in jail.