Pretrial detainees have long waits for mental evaluations - - Jackson, MS

Pretrial detainees have long waits for mental evaluations

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

We continues our investigation into the length of time some detainees are being held at the Hinds County Detention Center. Official documents reveal, one man has been incarcerated for eight years, waiting for trial and he is not the only one.

Forty-two year old Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons has been locked up as a detainee in the Hinds County Detention Center for eight years. Charged with Murder and Strong Arm Robbery, Simmons has not yet seen a trial.

Forty-eight year old Lee Vernel Knight has been there since 2007. That's seven years, locked up for Murder and Contempt of Court.

"No one should be held as a pre-trial detainee for that length of time," said Hinds County Public Defender Michele Purvis Harris. "When you are talking about that length of time there are normally some issues with regards to mental status of those individuals.

Harris says if mental illness plays a role, the detainee must have a mental evaluation before a speedy trial or plea bargain can be granted. But...

"Once we get an order from the judge for a mental evaluation, it could be one, two, three years before that individual is actually seen at the state hospital," added Harris.

Why so long? Adam Moore from the Mississippi State Hospital says there's no backlog for the 35 beds, but he says it can take a long time to get all the health records and law enforcement files needed to begin. There is a faster option, but it comes with a price.

"If there is a private attorney, they can pay for a doctor," said Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith. "If it is a public defender, and the client is indigent, then they request funds from the county to pay for the expertise of the psychiatrist. 

"Anybody that we represent has already been deemed indigent, so, it's not like they can afford to pay someone to conduct this evaluation, so we end up utilizing the state hospital," said Harris. "I know many people think, oh just send them to the state hospital. And once they get competent they can come back and proceed with that criminal charge. That's not the case. Whitfield will not take them if there is a criminal charge pending. Those problems can only be resolved with more staffing, more beds, more facilities. And it is a very, very costly dilemma we are faced with."  

Harris believes if the legislature appropriated more money in the budget for this area it could help resolve the problem. However, that is just a small piece to the large puzzle of solving the problem.

Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons is scheduled for a hearing in Judge Gowan's courtroom Monday at 9 a.m.

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