OVERLAND PARK, KS - The ACLU of Kansas, along with the National Police Accountability Project and Stinson LLP, filed a class action suit on Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas against the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), citing wait times as long as 13 months for competency evaluations and restoration treatment for people facing criminal charges. 

KDADS, which runs the forensic unit at Larned State Hospital, has used a waitlist for bed space in that unit for years. Recently, however, wait times have become so long that people may spend more time waiting in jail for an evaluation or treatment bed, pretrial, than they would face in prison if they were convicted. Advocates who brought the lawsuit say that KDADS’s egregiously long waitlist exacerbates the mental health challenges of those on the list, subjects them to prolonged punishment, and violates their Constitutional rights.

“Stakeholders have been sounding the alarm about the backlog at Larned for years, and the wait times for competency evaluations and restoration treatment in Kansas is worse than in almost all other states,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “People across Kansas are languishing in county jails, despite not being convicted of any crime, simply because the State has failed to provide them with timely competency evaluations or constitutionally required mental health treatment. This is a serious affront to the constitutional rights of our Plaintiffs and the 100+ people they represent.”

The lawsuit represents four individuals, each of whom is serving as a “next friend” of one or more individuals currently on the waiting list. While on the waitlist, these individuals are not receiving the comprehensive mental health care treatment they desperately need; their criminal cases are stalled; and they can further decompensate, making competency restoration all the more difficult. The suit involves more than 100 people currently on the waiting list.

“It is unconscionable and illegal to jail people who have not been convicted of a crime simply because KDADS refuses to invest in community treatment alternatives,” said Lauren Bonds of the National Police Accountability Project. “There is no excuse for a person to wait 11 months for medical treatment. Kansas is not the only state that has a high demand for competency services nor is it the only state to experience the COVID-19 pandemic. These delays come down to how little value the state places on the wellbeing of people in the carceral system.”

The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to reduce the unconstitutional, unlawful and health-deteriorating wait times for evaluations and treatment.

Larned is one of only two state psychiatric hospitals in the state, but the only one operating a forensic unit dedicated to the evaluation and treatment of people facing criminal charges.

The suit has been filed against Laura Howard, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Mike Dixon, State Hospitals Commissioner, and Lesia Dipman, Larned State Hospital Superintendent, in their official capacities.

The hospital’s forensic evaluation and treatment unit is operating at reduced capacity. Although there are 120 beds, Larned fills about only 65 percent of those beds at a time because it lacks the staffing to cover shifts for the full unit. 

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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.