ACLU sues Kansas, claiming excessive mental health wait times

Kansas' American Civil Liberties Union and the National Police Accountability Project are suing Kansas for alleged "unconstitutional, unlawful and health-deteriorating wait times" at the understaffed Larned State Hospital, the Kansas Reflector reported May 26. 

The psychiatric hospital is being hit with a federal class-action lawsuit claiming patients facing criminal charges are imprisoned for up to 13 months before getting a pretrial competency evaluation, which, in some cases, is longer than the time they would serve if convicted.

The American Civil Liberties Union claims that the facility only fills 65 of its 120 beds because of lack of staff, currently leaving more than 100 people on the waiting list for treatment.

The lawsuit represents four people whose lack of treatment is stalling their criminal cases.

"It is unconscionable and illegal to jail people who have not been convicted of a crime simply because [the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services] refuses to invest in community treatment alternatives," Lauren Bonds, a former ACLU of Kansas legal director who is now with the National Police Accountability Project, told the Reflector.

The hospital has been in hot water since the staff was supposedly being forced to work 16-hour shifts because of unfilled positions, as reported by the The Topeka Capital-Journal in March of 2018.

"Kansas is not the only state that has a high demand for competency services, nor is it the only state to experience the COVID-19 pandemic," Ms. Bonds told the Reflector. "These delays come down to how little value the state places on the wellbeing of people in the carceral system."

Editor's note: Becker's has reached out to the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services and will update this story if more information becomes available.

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