Under the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defendant must be able to meaningfully participate in his or her own defense and have a basic understanding of the court proceedings. Defendants with significant mental illness or developmental delays may be unable to understand court proceedings or participate in their own defense. In most cases, treatment in a Restoration to Competency Program (RTC) will give these defendants the ability to do so.
Until recently, Yavapai County defendants in need of RTC were sent to the Arizona State Hospital (ASH) in Phoenix. The State of Arizona previously covered the RTC costs for the smaller counties such as Yavapai County, but the recent state budget crisis means that Yavapai County is now responsible for all of this cost. The projected 2010 cost for continued use of ASH for RTC is $2,069,364. This estimate does not include costs for patient transportation, security guard overtime, or the cost associated with housing an inmate at a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office facility while he or she awaits transfer to ASH.
Last fall, a team consisting of Yavapai County Deputy Attorney Jack Fields, Yavapai County Jail Commander John Russell, and Jail Medical Administrator Becky Payne formed an exploratory committee to try to identify ways for Yavapai County to decrease this financial burden while still protecting the constitutional rights of the defendants. As a result of the committee’s work, Sheriff Steve Waugh authorized the committee to seek Board of Supervisor approval for collaboration between the Yavapai County Jail and the Jail medical services provider, Wexford Health Sources, Inc., to provide RTC services in Yavapai County. The new Yavapai County/Wexford RTC program, administered by Wexford Health Sources, Inc., was in fact approved by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors on February 16, 2010. Wexford inaugurated the Yavapai County/Wexford RTC program on April 1st, 2010 and the program admitted its first defendant on April 5, 2010. Dr. Joseph Stewart will be the RTC Director for Yavapai County.
The program eliminates the cost of “wait-time” for an ASH bed, eliminates time and travel expenses of transporting a defendant to ASH, decreases the length of restoration by as much as 65% over the average length of stay at ASH, and decreases the cost to Yavapai County by as much as 2/3 of the cost of restoration by ASH. Defense attorneys and defendant’s friends and family will be able to visit defendants locally rather than having to travel to Phoenix.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has been contacted by other Arizona counties who appear to be interested in utilizing the Yavapai County/Wexford RTC program. This program will also be a considerable cost-saving option for the other counties, which may also reduce the costs of RTC to Yavapai County. The RTC Program Director anticipates the program will have the capacity to accept defendants from other Arizona counties beginning July 1, 2010.
Wexford VP, Darius Holmes, told Sheriff Waugh, he appreciated the “leadership of the Sheriff, and Jail Command Staff in developing such an innovative approach to meeting the needs of the RTC program.”
Citizens can contact the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office with information or questions at (928) 771-3260 or the YCSO website: www.ycsoaz.gov