June 22, 2021 18:58

COVID-19 Delays Cases Involving The Mentally Ill

It’s been almost three years since Bryan Alvarez-Dominguez was arrested for bringing meth from Mexico into the U.S., but he hasn’t been sentenced. He was found incompetent to stand trial so he had to wait to be “restored” in jail. It’s been difficult because he has a developmental disability and because there aren’t mental health professionals in jail. When someone with a mental disability is arrested and winds up in federal court, a person deemed incompetent must then go through analysis and restoration before even entering a plea.

It’s a slow process that’s been exacerbated by COVID-19, reports KJZZ in Phoenix. Alvarez-Dominguez was “restored” and released from jail right before the pandemic struck. More than 182,000 inmates have contracted the coronavirus in custody, and 1,400 have died. “COVID has been a big tragedy in the criminal justice system,” said Luke Mulligan, an assistant federal public defender in Flagstaff. “It’s paused the process .” A four-month stay in the medical facility costs about $24,000. The cost of a bed at one of these facilities is higher than the normal cost of incarceration. Pre-COVID, the Federal Bureau of Prisons could handle about 500 people at a time. Alvarez-Dominguez’s attorney, Christina Woehr, says those beds aren’t just for competency restoration. “If someone is acquitted by virtue of insanity they have to be sent there,” Woehr said. “Those beds are also for people that have a mental emergency crisis issue and need inpatient treatment. They also get sent there. So there’s a lot of competition for those beds.”

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