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State officials held in contempt; Judge orders beds opened for prisoners in mental hospitals

Capital - 9/29/2017

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

Retired Judge Gale Rasin ruled Thursday that acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader and his top staff had failed to follow court orders to place criminal defendants in state psychiatric hospitals.

In some cases, Rasin said, mentally ill defendants have languished in jails for weeks waiting for a bed to become available at a state hospital.

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

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

Schrader told The Baltimore Sun that Rasin is ignoring steps he is taking to add 95 psychiatric beds in a variety of locations.

"I don't agree with it and it's inaccurate," Schrader said.

Asked what was inaccurate in the ruling, he responded: "She's stuck in the past. I've got to be worried about the future."

In a blistering 42-page order, Rasin systematically picked apart explanations given by Schrader and his staff for the delays in getting defendants into hospital beds.

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

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

Credit: By Pamela Wood - The Baltimore Sun

 
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