“You have my baby!” the woman screamed at no one in particular, inside the paint store on Modesto’s McHenry Avenue in April.
Stunned employees watched as she went out a side door and started bending the license plate on a car belonging to a co-worker. When he confronted her, she pulled a knife, a store worker said; a customer said the woman stabbed the trunk of another car as well.
“She was speaking incoherently, saying, ‘My baby’s in the trunk,’ ” recalled Cody Boday, a Kelly-Moore Paints employee who watched the scene unfold. His friend suffered scratches defending himself, Boday said, before the woman wandered away, muttering to herself.
Not far away, Modesto police arrested Michelle King, 42, and took her to the Stanislaus County jail. In August, after a psychiatric examination, a judge ordered her sent to Napa State Hospital to get mental health treatment. But King continues instead to languish in county jail because no state mental facility has an empty bed, authorities say.
528 Inmates in county jails throughout California waiting for space to open up in state mental hospitals
13 Such inmates waiting in Stanislaus County lockups
As of Sept. 5, 528 inmates deemed not competent to stand trial were waiting for help in county jails because the Department of State Hospitals has no room.
“It’s an issue we take very seriously,” said Ralph Montaño, spokesman for the department. But its hands are tied if there just isn’t room, the department’s attorneys said in court documents meant to convince Stanislaus judges to hold off on transporting King and others.
Including King, 13 local inmates await such transfers. Meanwhile, Stanislaus County pays about $100 a day to house each of them. That’s $40,000 a month borne by Stanislaus taxpayers, not the state, which does not reimburse the county to care for these inmates destined for state lockups.
“It’s always been a problem,” said Stanislaus Sheriff Adam Christianson, who worries about having enough space for offenders assigned to his responsibility, when it’s occupied by the state’s inmates, committed to state facilities but still here.
If we need additional mental health beds for local mentally ill offenders, we may not have the capacity (because of state inmates here).
Adam Christianson, Stanislaus County sheriff
Although the county provides some help to psychiatric inmates, it’s not the same as a specialized state hospital, said Lynn Padlo, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Modesto office. Its umbrella organization for years has complained that more people with serious mental illness are being funneled into jails rather than mental hospitals.
“It’s not a good situation when they’re just biding their time, not getting the treatment they could get,” Padlo said.
On Aug. 17, Stanislaus Judge Rubén Villalobos ordered the California Department of Mental Health to take custody of King, who requires “housing in a therapeutic setting to avoid further detriment to the client’s mental health,” the order reads. The idea is to bring such an inmate to the point where he or she can meaningfully participate in defending against criminal charges. King faces two felonies: one each for assault with a deadly weapon and vandalism on the vehicle trunk, plus another misdemeanor count for the license plate.
$40,000 Estimated monthly cost to Stanislaus taxpayers to house inmates who should be in state mental hospitals
Attorneys representing the state, pointing to the wait list of 528 inmates, predicted that the Department of State Hospitals probably can’t take King until Nov. 11. The agency has added 443 beds, or spaces for inmates declared incompetent, at various hospitals throughout California in recent times, court documents say, but can’t keep pace with growing need.
“Napa is currently getting more orders to receive and treat patients than beds are being vacated,” said Amy Prothero, supervising nurse at Napa, in a court statement.
Admissions for those unfit for trial rose 29 percent, to 2,572, from 2010 to 2014, the agency says. It serves more than 6,800 offenders who are mentally ill, of which 21 percent, or about 1,400, are trying to get well enough to stand trial.
There continues to be insufficient resources, funding, beds and other services to meet the demand, the public’s demand for mental health care services.
Adam Christianson, Stanislaus County sheriff
“Regardless of what the court ordered, we cannot deliver her until the hospital has a vacant bed for her,” Christianson said of King.
On Sept. 13, Stanislaus Judge Shawn Bessey agreed to give the state more time before taking custody of King.
Montaño noted that Los Angeles County leaders, responding to Los Angeles Times reports, are looking into a troubling rise in its mental health court referrals. A preliminary report suggested a link to the rising homeless population and to fewer people participating in mandated treatment programs after criminal justice reforms, The Times reported.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390