Judge Takes Strong Issue with Incarcerated Waiting Many Months for Mental Health Treatment, Threatens to Hold State in Contempt

By S. Priana Aquino

ALAMEDA, CA – A man was set for a preliminary hearing at 8:30 a.m. here in Fresno County Superior Court Wednesday, but was not present in court because he was in COVID-19 quarantine.

Instead, he was represented by Assistant Public Defender Sylvia Whelan over Zoom.

When the matter was brought to the court, Judge Houry Sanderson remarked she had seen and recognized this case and knew it had been long overdue for the man to be at a mental health state hospital as stipulated back in March of 2021.

Attorney Sunny Lowell on behalf of the Department of State Hospitals informed the court that Patton Mental Hospital where they wanted to place the man had 25 of their 35 units in quarantine and could not accept any other patients.

Lowell, however, said they were optimistic Patton would start admitting more patients soon.

Upon hearing this explanation, Judge Sanderson stated the man had been waiting for transfer for an excessive time, and asked Lowell why he was only being considered for treatment at Patton State Hospital.

Lowell explained the patient unit tracking system that the department used, and that other cases have been moved to Napa State Hospital instead.

Clearly frustrated, Judge Sanderson said “he should be somewhere at the top of the list because he’s been around for quite some time.”

The judge added, “That’s just not acceptable. I don’t want this matter lingering into the March 16 date,” which was when the man had initially been sentenced to time at a mental health hospital.

Judge Sanderson told Attorney Lowell that she would hold the Department in contempt if the man was not given the treatment he needed by March 9. “I’ve done that once before, and for whatever reason it seemed to do the trick,” said Sanderson.

She continued to express her disappointment over the case’s seeming lack of attention, saying that it was “unacceptable” despite the difficulties that the Omicron variant brought to housing mental patients.

The next case that was called was another incarcerated man who also had waited months for treatment at a mental health hospital.

“I don’t mean to repeat myself, but all of my previous concerns still relate to this case,” said a clearly disappointed Judge Sanderson. She pointed out that in this case, it had been seven months past the typical 60-day time limit for an inmate to be placed at a hospital.

Sanderson found that the “department’s efforts were lacking” and “not appropriate.” She also stated to Attorney Lowell that she was not satisfied with the work that the Department of State Hospitals has done, and that all options should be explored in the future.

In response, Lowell said that she would take the time to reach out to the patient management team in advance of the next meeting on March 9.

About The Author

S. Priana Aquino is a rising Senior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in Business with minors in Legal Studies and Public Service & Community Engagement. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend law school and continue her work in uplifting and advocating for communities of color.

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