Continuing his efforts to reduce the rising violence in California State Mental Hospitals, Senator Sam Blakeslee has introduced legislation to reform the patient referral process to state hospitals and stiffen penalties for attacks on state hospital employees.
“For years, I have repeatedly called for changes to the state hospital system to stem the rise of violence within hospitals,” Blakeslee said. “Many patients within hospitals have a temporary substance abuse problem and do not need to be remanded into a permanent mental health program. This bill will be a significant step in protecting patients and staff from violent individuals who have been inappropriately placed within a state hospital.”
SB 1281 establishes a process at state hospitals to review and evaluate patients committed to a state hospital under a defendant’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. This bill would authorize the director of a state hospital to confirm that the defendant satisfies the state’s NGRI criteria by conducting a review period once a patient arrives. The bill also mandates that the director notify the referring court if there is clear and compelling evidence that the defendant does not meet state NGRI criteria.
Under current law, when a defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity, the court is required to appoint at least two psychiatrists or licensed psychologists to examine a defendant’s mental status and submit a report to the court. SB 1281 remedies this deficiency by requiring the court appointed evaluators to include within their report the following criteria:
• The defendant’s substance abuse history.
• The defendant’s substance use history on the day of the commission of the offense.
• A review of the police report of the offense.
By improving the quality of court appointed evaluations, and authorizing a review of defendants by state hospitals, SB 1281 helps provide a safe, therapeutic environment for patients and staff by preventing violent individuals from being inappropriately committed to state hospitals in the first place.
Additionally, Senator Blakeslee is partnering with San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Gerald T. Shea to introduce SB 1282 to stiffen penalties for those individuals who assault a state employee and have previously been convicted of a crime, but are considered too dangerous to be released into the public. These individuals are called “mentally disordered offenders.” There are currently 600 mentally disordered offenders at Atascadero State Hospital.
Attacks on hospital staff have sharply increased in recent years. Assaults on staff doubled to approximately 200 in the second quarter of 2010 compared to the same period of 2009.
In February alone, there were five assaults on staff at Atascadero State Hospital. The bill will ensure that a prosecutor can pursue a felony charge after a mentally disordered offender has attacked a staff employee.