News Article Details

No room in the inn for mentally ill

Indianola Enterprise-Tocsin - 3/2/2017

An Indianola man found mentally incompetent to stand trial remains in the Sunflower County Jail more than two years after being ordered to the State Hospital at Whitfield.

Steven Hillie continues to wait for a bed to open up.

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old indicted for armed robbery and kidnapping is not getting professional psychological help like Whitfield could offer - and Sunflower County taxpayers continue to pay for him to stay in the jail, including $600 to $1,000 per month for psychotropic drugs.

It's a common problem in Mississippi due to a severe shortage of space at the mental hospital. Whitfield's Forensic Services facility only has 20 beds for the entire state to treat individuals found not guilty by reason of insanity or who are security concerns.

That has created a long backlog. The waiting list for those 20 beds plus 15 others reserved for temporary evaluations before a trial was at 144 in 2016, according to a report by Mississippi Today.

It's also expensive to care for such patients. The cost is more than $150,000 per person per year to treat someone in forensic services, according to Whitfield's 2018 budget request. That lack of space and funding leads to long waits - and great frustration for families of the mentally ill.

Steven Hillie's mother, Deborah Hillie, said she's frequently called Whitfield trying to get information about when space will open up for her son.

Sheriff James Haywood said a deputy checked and Hillie is now No. 5 on the list.

"In Hinds County they had some that were there like five or six years, but they're trying to speed up the process and I?think he'll be leaving pretty soon,"?Haywood said. "They've just got to be patient."

Haywood said it's a burden on the county and that most jails in Mississippi face similar problems. He said there are a couple others in the Sunflower County Jail now who will probably be deemed incompetent to stand trial.

If the charges are non-violent, they can be dropped and the person can be committed to Whitfield's regular unit, which has less of a wait time than the forensic services unit. Haywood said Indianola did that with a shoplifting suspect.

In another case, a judge saw fit to release to his parents a young man who had been in jail for about two years for a non-violent crime. Haywood said four years later a spot opened up at Whitfield, and the sheriff's department picked him up and transported him down there.

Haywood said Hillie does not cause trouble at jail, but the serious nature of the allegations against him make him an unlikely candidate to be released on those terms.

A grand jury indicted Hillie for armed robbery and kidnapping after he allegedly stole a ring from a 79-year-old woman at her home on Julianne Drive on Jan. 14, 2013. He was caught after attempting to sell the ring to downtown merchants.

Court records said a psychological evaluation found that Hillie had an IQ of 57, which is classified as mildly retarded. The evaluation said he didn't have sufficient ability to consult with his attorney nor a rational, factual understanding of the proceedings against him, doesn't understand the plea process nor his right to testify and had an impaired ability to understand the criminality of his conduct and the legality of waiving his rights.

Circuit Judge Richard Smith found Hillie unfit to stand trial on July 15, 2014, and ordered Hillie to begin civil commitment proceedings in Chancery Court.

He's been in the Sunflower County Jail ever since.

Smith entered a supplemental order in January to "facilitate the administrative processing, further evaluation and treatment."

That order said for Hillie to undergo an additional mental competence and mental disability evaluation at Whitfield, regardless of whether Hillie gave consent.

 
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