Settlement Reached Over Utah Competency Restoration Services

Flag of the State of Utah

by Andy Jones
July 4, 2017

The Disability Law Center and the Utah Department of Human Services announced a settlement June 12 in a class-action lawsuit challenging the state’s wait times for people awaiting competency restoration services prior to standing trial.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2015, concerns inmates found incompetent to stand trial in criminal proceedings, and ordered to receive competency restoration services at Utah State Hospital. In the two years prior to the filing of the lawsuit, the wait times for these services jumped from 30 to 180 days, a time period the Disability Law Center argues violates the inmates' due process rights under the 14th Amendment and the Utah Constitution.

Under the settlement, the Department must reduce its average to wait time to 60 days within six months, then to 30 days after one year and 14 days after eighteen months, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Prior to reaching the agreement, the Department fought the Disability Law Center’s attempts to proceed with the case as a class-action lawsuit. In November 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the class certification

While applauding the settlement agreement, Aaron Kinikini, legal director of the Disability Law Center, lamented the impact of long wait times on inmates at the Hospital.

“The human stories behind this class-action lawsuit have been tragic and disturbing: due to a chronic lack of funding in the Utah State Hospital system, people charged, but not convicted of crimes, too ill to proceed to trial, waited for months-on-end in our state’s county jails after being court-ordered into treatment to restore their competence,” Kinikini said in a news release. “In the lead-up and during the pendency of this lawsuit, hundreds of people with severe mental illness have silently suffered in jail cells as a result of delayed and denied treatment. Some have died while waiting.”

As part of the agreement, the state has agreed to continue funding for its community-based outreach program, which aims to treat low-risk patients in community facilities, rather than Utah State Hospital. Since its launch in 2016, 90 people have received services through the program at a cost of $16 per day, as opposed to $500 per day at the Hospital, according to the news release.

The Department has also agreed to spend $3 million to fund a new a unit in a jail in Salt Lake County for providing competency restoration services.

Disability Rights Washington and the Disability Law Center are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Utah, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.