Jail inmates in mental health limbo

  • Sonoma County Correctional Deputy Nick Lund makes his rounds in the F-Module mental health unit of the Sonoma County Detention Facility in Santa Rosa in 2013. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD FILE)

It's been more than two months since a Sonoma County judge ordered Julia Franzen of Sebastopol to be committed to Napa State Hospital.

The 24-year-old woman was arrested in February on suspicion of stabbing her mother to death. She's since been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and deemed unable to assist in her own defense.

Yet she remains in the county jail, waiting for the state to retrieve her, while the chronic mental illness that some say led her to kill her mother and blurt out bizarre courtroom statements causes her to pull out clumps of her own hair.

"She belongs in a hospital, not in a jail," said her lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Tyler Hicks.

Franzen's situation is not unusual these days. Sonoma County jail officials say a lack of bed space at the state's mental hospitals is increasing the lag time between when an inmate is committed to an institution and when they are actually picked up.

The delays have increased over the past year from a maximum of about two months to more than three months, said Lt. Mike Toby, who supervises the jail's three mental health units.

One mentally ill person has been waiting in the jail since April, Toby said.

It's not good for the inmates, who need treatment before they can proceed with their criminal cases, but it's also an added expense for the county which must pay for medication and enhanced supervision, Toby said.

The exact cost was not available.

"It does seem to have gotten longer now," Toby said. "Obviously, we don't want to see them sit here."

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