10 Sep The Double-Edged Sword of an Underfunded Mental Health System
Prosecuting an underfunded mental health system to force it to live up to high standards of care for individuals with mental impairments held in jail is a double-edged sword. A lawyer has to know going in that the resources a beleaguered State spends defending itself will in the end help thousands of disadvantaged people. And, although the State may silently beg to be sued so that the State Officials who hold the purse strings will finally notice that they need to pump both mental and financial energy into the system to straighten it out, the end result is that resources are being taken from Peter to pay Paul. Yes, monthly meetings with stakeholders, demand letters, and commissions may help to alleviate some of the shortcomings. But, in my experience truly, the only way to confer civil rights to individuals with disabilities and those with mental impairments is to sue. No different than integrating schools, the right to marry anyone you choose, and the right to vote. Suing is a necessity.
After suing the Colorado State Mental Health Hospital and discounting our attorney’s fees drastically, we took in about $60,000. But, we didn’t just want the money getting spent on pens, pads of paper, fixing copy machines and computers. Since we earned it from the State of Colorado for its failure to humanely treat individuals with mental impairments held in Colorado jails, we decided to use the funds to train criminal defense lawyers from all over the world on how to best represent their clients with mental impairments.
So, instead of funding pens, the attorney’s fees are going to fund America’s First Forensic Mental Health and the Law Forum to take place in Denver, Colorado on September 19th and 20th, 2013. The presenters of the forum are the most prominent psychologists, psychiatrists, and lawyers in the country in forensic mental health. The presenters are the engineers behind competency examinations, insanity examinations and testing, and representing individuals with mental impairment. Hopefully, the State’s money will keep on giving to assure that the most disenfranchised among us – people who are criminally accused and have mental impairments — will achieve justice.
Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.