Judge denies relief to detainees suffering unconstitutional wait times
The lawsuit will proceed without plaintiffs' requested preliminary injunction 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

CONTACT: Esmie Tseng, Communications Director, ACLU of Kansas, [email protected]

KANSAS CITY, KAN. – A federal district court judge has denied a request to enter a preliminary injunction which would have remedied the months-long waitlist for bed space at Larned State Hospital for those awaiting mental health evaluations and treatment before they can be tried in criminal court.

“This case is about some of our most vulnerable community members. Because of the court’s ruling, hundreds of people on the waitlist for Larned will continue to languish for indeterminate months in our county jails, under conditions that exacerbate rather than treat mental illness,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas.  “We are disappointed by the court’s ruling, but we do believe that with the benefit of the full discovery, our clients’ claims –and the Constitution—will ultimately prevail.”

The motion for the preliminary injunction and the lawsuit, Glendening v. Howard, were first filed in May of 2022 by the ACLU of Kansas, the National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, and Stinson LLP. The class action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas against the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), which oversees the Larned State Hospital and uses a waitlist for bed space in the forensic unit. The order denying the entry of a permanent injunction does not end the case, and the parties remain in active discovery, which will continue through the summer.

“The law requires Kansans charged with crimes to be mentally competent to stand for trial,” said Lauren Bonds, Executive Director of the National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild. “But KDADS’s inability to quickly and effectively evaluate that competency, and treat individuals whose competency is lacking, is a flagrant violation of the rights of already vulnerable people, and it constitutes one of this state’s worst ongoing human rights crises.”

In recent years, wait times have become so long—as long as 13 months or more—that people may spend more time waiting in jail for an evaluation or treatment bed, pretrial, than they would have faced in prison if convicted.

Expert assessment cited in support of the preliminary injunction found that Kansas is an outlier among the 50 states for the length of wait times and rejected the state’s justifications for the wait list, noting that 2022 legislative reforms “represent an incomplete and speculative solution to the unconstitutional wait times currently in place, a harm that demands immediate redress.”

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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.