A federal judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit filed against the state of Utah on behalf of several mentally ill prison inmates.
The Disability Law Center is suing the state on behalf of three inmates in Utah jails, alleging that they’re being held unconstitutionally while they wait to get treatment at the Utah State Hospital. Aaron Kinikini is the center’s legal director. He says right now there are 41 people sitting in jail waiting for mental health treatment at the hospital, but all the beds are full.
“That’s a substantial number of people who are suffering in a jail, in a punitive environment, when they have not been sentenced to be punished in a jail,” he says,
Kinikini says the inmates have appeared before judges, were deemed to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, and were ordered to receive treatment at the hospital. But he says some people have spent up to nine months in a jail cell while they waited for that treatment.
“The only acceptable legal reason to hold them is to provide them the restorative competency treatment,” Kinikini says. “And if you’re not doing that, then really what you have is this kind of black box of detention that is unconstitutional.”
This week U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the Disability Law Center can continue with the case as a class action lawsuit and represent potentially dozens of inmates.
The Utah Attorney General’s office is representing the state Department of Human Services and officials there declined to comment on the case.