Settlement may be close in lawsuit over mentally ill inmates kept in jails

SALT LAKE CITY -- A lawsuit against the state of Utah over mentally ill inmates being kept in jails without any kind of treatment may be close to being settled.

That's because the Utah State Legislature has funded $3 million to address the problem.

FOX 13 first reported last year that dozens of mentally ill inmates were suing the state after they were arrested for crimes, then ordered to the state mental hospital to be restored to competency. However, a lack of bed space meant many inmates languished in jail awaiting treatment. The Disability Law Center has said some inmates have been waiting in jail for longer than a sentence would be if they were tried and convicted.

A federal judge allowed them to proceed with a class-action lawsuit.

In a new court filing, the Disability Law Center said it has been in settlement talks with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

"In an effort to resolve this lawsuit, Defendant Utah Department of Human Services received $3 million from the Utah Legislature for the operation of a jail-based competency restoration program. It is intended that actual program implementation will begin no later than September 2017," attorney Alan Sullivan wrote in a motion asking the judge to delay upcoming deadlines.

Sullivan said they also hoped to work out a solution for where inmates could get treatment if there's no room in the Utah State Hospital.

"To allow Defendants additional time to negotiate an arrangement that would allow Defendants’ jail-based competency restoration treatment unit to be located in space owned by one of Utah’s county jails," he wrote.

The judge is expected to delay upcoming deadlines while settlement talks continue.