York County Prison considers services for those deemed incompetent to stand trial

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Two inmates have been waiting inside York County Prison for a transfer to a psychiatric bed for 1,000 days.

"I think that from my perspective as the DA and as a citizen, I think it's unjust for us to be in that situation," District Attorney Dave Sunday said.

The problem, according to Sunday: There are only two facilities statewide — the Norristown and Torrance state hospitals — equipped to provide treatment for patients facing criminal charges. In both cases, a judge ruled that the inmates aren't competent to stand trial.

That predicament led the York County Prison Board of Inspectors to approve a feasibility study at its meeting Wednesday. The study will evaluate the creation of a competency restoration area at the county prison that would allow for in-house treatment for those who've been deemed incompetent because of active mental illness, an intellectual disability or substance abuse concerns.

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"This is an opportunity for us to better serve citizens through having this," Sunday said.

CS Davidson, the same engineering firm tasked with studying the relocation of central booking to the prison, will be paid $11,500 to examine what it would take to create an in-house treatment area for those judged unfit to stand trial.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

To be deemed competent to stand trial, inmates must understand legal proceedings, communicate with their defense lawyer and rationally aid in their defense.

While the feasibility study is not a guarantee that the treatment program will go forward, it is the first step in a process that could see the service brought to the prison instead of sending inmates to distant state facilities.

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Warden Adam Ogle said the potential competency restoration area would be in the prison's F block, which served as the work release center until the late 1990s.

"What we can't do is just do nothing" to deal with the needs of inmates deemed incompetent for trial, Sunday said.

In addition to the competency restoration feasibility study, the Prison Board of Inspectors approved a $15,000 feasibility study by CS Davidson to examine the potential for creating a diversion center and training facility in the vacated work release facility, which is across the street from the prison.

York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, who also serves as president of the prison board, said the study would evaluate the creation of a one-stop facility for programs to help people, and the feasibility study would determine what programs should be housed there.

"It's all being done to promote the health and welfare of people in the community," Hoke said.

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— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.