DENVER – Many criminal defendants in Colorado have been waiting for months to receive court-ordered mental competency evaluations and treatment at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP.) A federal judge has ruled that the Department of Human Services DHS, which oversees the state hospital, is out of compliance with an agreement it made with a civil rights group who sued them years ago.
There are two deadlines agreed to in that settlement from 2012. The first is for how quickly a criminal defendant will be seen by a doctor for a competency evaluation, and the second is for how quickly a defendant will be admitted to treatment inpatient restorative services if they are deemed incompetent.
In both cases, the state is supposed to act within 28 days or less. But during in the summer of 2017, the average wait time for both services escalated well beyond the 28-day limit. The time fell sharply in March for competency evaluations. However, the average wait time for admission to the state hospital remained more than 80 days as of August.
Lawyers representing Disability Law Colorado filed a complaint to reopen the litigation in June. They argued that the state broke a contractual agreement by failing to meet the terms of the settlement.
Lawyers representing State pointed out that the settlement agreement provided DHS the ability to exceed the deadlines under special circumstances.
That exemption, referred to as a Departmental Special Circumstance (DSC), gives DHS a 6-month window to return to compliance with the agreed upon 28 days maximum wait time. The defense argued that CMHIP experienced an unanticipated spoke in court order referrals. The department subsequently invoked the DSC exemption two consecutive times in December of 2017 and June of 2018.
Magistrate Judge Nina Wang granted the plaintiffs motion for summary judgment in part and denied their motion in part. Wang declared in her order that the State is out of compliance with its agreement. However, she did not impose a court-ordered deadline to return to compliance.
The parties will be back in court November 30 for another hearing to address whether the DSC exemptions were property invoked and to determine the scope of an injunction going forward to address the department’s performance of inpatient restoration services.