Patricia Tatum said she thinks about her son from the time she wakes up to the time she goes to sleep.
She feels helpless.
“There’s nothing I can do,” she said. “I have no information.”
Her son, 47-year-old Derrick Williams, sits in the Clay County Detention Center in Missouri — hundreds of miles away from her home in Alabama. He’s been there since January 2022 on charges of robbery and armed criminal action after allegedly stealing a belt from a Walmart in Clay County. A judge last year ruled that Williams, who has schizophrenia according to his attorney, was not competent enough to stand trial “as a result of mental disease or defect” and should receive treatment at a mental health facility.
But with no hospital beds available, Williams has been forced to remain in jail. Tatum and her husband, Willie Tatum, Derrick’s stepfather, have largely been left in the dark on their son’s condition and the status of his case.
They know he should not be in jail if he’s not competent to stand trial. He should be in a place where he can get treatment — both so he can get better and so his case can progress, they said.
“He needs to get his condition under control,” Willie Tatum said. “He doesn’t need to be in jail.”
Williams is one of 253 people languishing in jails across Missouri who have been found unfit to stand trial but can’t be sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment because of a shortage of beds and lack of staffing. There are roughly 25 in the Jackson County Detention Center, said Lucas Castilleja, the jail’s accreditation manager.
That statewide number could grow as the Missouri Department of Mental Health awaits 57 more court orders for people deemed incompetent to stand trial. And of the 267 open pre-trial competency evaluations ordered by the court, half are expected to be sent to DMH for competency restoration, according to DMH spokesperson Debra Walker.
The Star spoke with more than a dozen family members of inmates, hospital leaders, law enforcement, criminal justice reform advocates, lawmakers and attorneys about the problems getting inmates with mental health issues proper care. Collectively, they painted a portrait of a crisis. The inmates are often stuck in limbo in which their legal cases can’t progress until they get treated for their mental illness. And they can’t get treatment until a spot opens up at a hospital.
©2023 The Kansas City Star. Visit at kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.