Pa. reaches deal in jailing of mentally ill

     After Pennsylvania's agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union in a case involving hundreds of people with mental illness who were left in county jails, ACLU-Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak says the next question is how quickly the state can move defendants into mental health treatment. (AP file photo)

    After Pennsylvania's agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union in a case involving hundreds of people with mental illness who were left in county jails, ACLU-Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak says the next question is how quickly the state can move defendants into mental health treatment. (AP file photo)

    The state has reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania in a case alleging that hundreds of people with mental illness were left in county jails across the commonwealth for far longer than is constitutional.

     A federal judge still must approve the terms of the deal in a meeting Wednesday morning, according to the ACLU and a spokeswoman with the state Department of Human Services.

    ACLU-Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak said the next question is how quickly the state can move defendants into mental health treatment.

    “Keeping them in jail is really just cruel,” said Walczak. “Many of them do not get better, and some of them get significantly worse, and some percentage of those get so much worse that they can’t get back to the baseline once they get into a hospital.”

    The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed the suit in October, alleging the state was violating the constitutional rights of criminal defendants with mental illness.

    When people with mental illness are criminally charged, they must receive treatment to see if they could aid in their own defense. Federal courts have ruled that defendants shouldn’t be left waiting for hospitalization for more than a week. The ACLU of Pennsylvania alleged that in Pennsylvania some people were left in jail for more than a year.

    A closed-door meeting with federal Judge Sylvia Rambo is set for Wednesday at 9 a.m. A press conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

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