Maryland Criminal Law and Mental Illness

Maryland Criminal Law and Mental Illness

Dozens of mentally ill men and women who have been charged with crimes are languishing in jails across Maryland despite court orders to send them to state hospitals for evaluation and treatment.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene does not have enough beds or staff to treat new patients, officials say. The shortage comes as 80 percent of those admitted to such facilities are arriving via the criminal justice system.

Union officials blame the shortages on what they call the state’s cost-saving policy of pushing care of the mentally ill into the private sector.

The state’s psychiatric inpatient capacity declined from about 3,000 beds in the 1980s to about 960 now, a squeeze the state’s top health official calls a crisis.  “Currently, all of the in-patient facilities operated by DHMH are full, and in fact, our system has been consistently over census for the past year,” Maryland Health Secretary Van T. Mitchell wrote to a Prince George’s County judge in April. “The implications of this for the patients and staff in our facilities are grave: Operating over census means we are at risk of not having adequate staff to maintain a safe patient-care environment or to provide quality care.”

Diamant Gerstein, LLC, represents Kristina Petrie, a woman charged with attempted murder and other charges.  She has filed an NCR plea, or a plea of non-criminal responsibility. There are cases that should not be in the criminal justice system at all, and these involve people or whom mental health treatment is necessary, not jail.

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