California bill could extend hospital stay for violent offenders

California is considering a bill that would allow people with severe mental illness who commit violent crimes to be held in a state mental hospital for up to 30 days instead of only five, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Mar. 4.

Currently, people with severe mental illness who are convicted of violent crimes and pose a "substantial danger of physical harm to others" are kept in mental hospitals following their prison sentences. Within five days, a judge determines if their mental illness is in remission and if determined to be in remission with treatment or no longer pose a threat, are released into the community. 

The proposed bill would increase the time the state could keep a person after a judge determines they need to be released from five days to 30 days. This would give officials time to create and enact treatment plans.

The proposal comes a year after a man who was convicted of stabbing a bakery owner was released from the hospital without time to receive medication and other treatment. He went on to stab a bakery worker. 

"Five days is not enough to transition anyone, let alone someone who has committed a violent offense and has a serious mental disorder," Assembly Member Matt Haney, who proposed the bill, told the Chronicle. "Even if a judge has found that that person can be released, we absolutely need time to transition that person for the community's safety and well-being and for the individual's safety and well-being."

Between January 2018 and October 2023, 1,656 violent offenders were released from state mental hospitals. The bill would not only expand the stay for these offenders, but would also require probation departments in the county where the person will be released to be notified within five days of a judge ruling the offender would be allowed to leave the hospital. 

A decade ago, a similar law was rejected by lawmakers. Advocacy group Legal Services for Prisoners with Children called the proposed 30-day hold "excessively long," according to the Chronicle.

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