Long waiting list for incompetent defendants to stand trial at Texas Mental Health Hospitals

Dallas (CBSDFW.COM) Court records show that Portia Uduvua, accused of shooting a pistol inside Dallas Love Field station this week, has a history of being deemed ineligible to appear in court on previous criminal charges due to mental health issues.

Once Odufuwa is formally charged in the airport case, Dallas County District Attorney John Creusot said Friday that authorities will once again have to determine if she is able to appear in court. “If she does not qualify for trial, we will start over, except this time with a felony involving violence. She will have to wait for these types of beds, high-risk beds in state hospitals.”

The problem is that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says that as of July 26, there is a waiting list of nearly 2,500 state mental health hospital beds where defendants deemed ineligible for trial can receive treatment, become stable and eligible for trial.

“The bottom line is there’s been a long wait for hospital beds for people like her, she’s never received any services.”

Because of the waiting list, misdemeanor defendants time out of the system without receiving state hospital treatment, said Alize Ferguson, the chief attorney for the Collin County Department of Mental Health.

Those facing criminal charges must remain in county jails. “It would take more than two years of waiting at best to get a government hospital bed. So if they are not treated in prison, if they are sitting on the waiting list, they are likely to have other incidents in prison where they are charged with further charges, and to prolong their stay and causing further harm to themselves or others.”

A spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the agency has a variety of initiatives working with counties to help ease the burden of the large waiting list.

During the past five years in Collin County, Ferguson said judges have ordered waiting-list defendants to receive treatment in prison so they can be stabilized and eventually considered eligible for trial.

So far this year, she said, 22 defendants have settled and qualified.

That’s 75% of those cases.

“We have saved these individuals from sitting in our county jail, and most of them have saved about nine months of time sitting waiting. So it not only benefits the individual, but it definitely helps prevent a system blockage and an increase in the prison population.”

In Dallas County, the county’s attorney general, Cruzot, said judges have issued prescription drug orders to some of the defendants on the waiting list.

He said his office was trying to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

Creuzot recently opened a Dallas County Subversion Center that helps homeless or mentally ill people accused of low-level crimes avoid prison and receive the treatment they need.

His office also gave the Dallas Police Department $250,000 to expand the RightCare program, where special teams respond to people in a mental health crisis.

Crouzot also gave the cities of Addison, Carrollton, Coppell, and Branch Farmers a total of $200,000 to help pay for homelessness and mental health assessments in their cities.

He said, “What we are trying to do again, is to prevent these people from coming to prison, but on the other hand, we provide services so that we can improve their lives, make society safer, and of course saving tax money that is the goal of this project.”

Last month, Cruzot asked Dallas County commissioners to increase the number of mental health prosecutors in his office.

Ferguson said she is also working closely with Collin County police departments. “I work with CIT officers in every department in our county, and we regularly meet and talk and communicate, if an officer brings someone to our prison, they identify some mental health issues, they report it to us right away and so we are able to take action from the time they enter the door. We have some great officers. who will go out and connect with people, even before they are arrested or to circumvent an arrest by trying to connect them.”

Ferguson, Cruzot and others in the criminal justice system told CBS11 that the state legislature needs to spend more money on mental health to help address the problem.