Much Still to be Done for Mentally Ill Inmates

January 16, 2003
Posted at: 4:21 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- A lawyer for a group that sued the state over treatment of mentally ill prisoners in county jails says much remains to be done to fix problems in Arkansas.

However, a judge approved a settlement in the matter. Bettina Brownstein represented the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties in its lawsuit against the state Department of Human Services in 2001.

She says the settlement is a starting point for solving problems involving care for mentally ill inmates. U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner this week gave final approval to the settlement that eventually obligates the Arkansas State Hospital to carry out a mental evaluation of a prisoner within 30 days of a trial judge's order.

In May, Reasoner ruled the state must improve care for the inmates. In September, the two sides reached a settlement that Reasoner approved tentatively.

On Wednesday, the Department of Human Services reported to the court that a waiting list of 82 inmates when the agreement was made has since grown by ten. The report said that though significant progress in reducing the number has not been made, officials expect to be in full compliance with the settlement by a July 1 deadline.

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