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Judge holds Maryland officials in contempt, orders them to open dozens of psychiatric beds

Baltimore Sun - 9/28/2017

Sept. 28--A judge is holding Maryland's acting health secretary and other top officials in contempt of court, ordering them to open dozens of beds at state psychiatric hospitals by the end of the year.

Retired Judge Gale Rasin, presiding in Baltimore Circuit Court, ruled Thursday that acting health Secretary Dennis Schrader and his top staff failed to follow court orders to place criminal defendants in state psychiatric hospitals. In some cases, mentally ill defendants have languished in jails for weeks waiting for a bed at a state hospital, Rasin said.

"Secretary Schrader: I say, 'Fix this problem and do it now,'" Rasin said.

Rasin said the Department of Health, which is responsible for treating mentally ill defendants, hasn't been doing its job.

"It has failed miserably to meet its responsibility," Rasin said.

The judge said the evaluation and treatment system for potentially mentally ill defendants is "in a shambles."

In order to lift the contempt finding, Rasin said Schrader and his deputies must fully staff 20 recently-added beds at the Clifton Perkins Hospital in Jessup and open and staff 20 more beds in a new admissions unit there, as well as open and staff 20 more beds in a new admissions unit at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville.

The new units must be opened and staffed by the end of December, Rasin said.

In an interview, Schrader said he already has plans for 95 additional beds at state hospitals by early next year, but he would not explain any details.

"I'm very sensitive to this issue," Schrader said outside the courthouse.

Sharon Bogins Eberhart, a public defender who represents defendants who were awaiting mental health treatment, said the judge's ruling is a good start to fixing the problem if the state complies.

"If they were to do it, it would be a tremendous step forward," she said.

This story will be updated.

Pamela Wood

Maryland's top health official spent more than 90 minutes in court Tuesday morning defending the pace at which the state is moving mentally ill criminal defendants out of jail and into treatment.

A Baltimore judge is weighing whether to hold the state in contempt for failing to follow court orders...

Maryland's top health official spent more than 90 minutes in court Tuesday morning defending the pace at which the state is moving mentally ill criminal defendants out of jail and into treatment.

A Baltimore judge is weighing whether to hold the state in contempt for failing to follow court orders...

(Pamela Wood)

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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