NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – A bill introduced Tuesday would allocate $3.3 million to pay for the mental health evaluation of accused criminals or misdemeanor offenders deemed incompetent to stand trial.
The bill intends to try and restore competency to misdemeanor offenders who otherwise cannot be prosecuted because of their mental condition.
A WSMV4 Investigation exposed that an estimated 229 accused misdemeanor offenders in Nashville were not prosecuted because they were deemed incompetent to stand trial. Those offenders are then released back into the public and often offend again.
The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office cited a lack of funding to pay for the evaluation and treatment of these misdemeanor offenders at a state hospital. The state of Tennessee used to fund the evaluations but has since placed the funding burden on local cities, which has not happened.
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, introduced the bill that would once again have the state funding the evaluations, citing that statewide, research shows 363 misdemeanor offenders cannot be prosecuted currently because they are deemed incompetent to stand trial.
“Folks are not getting the help they need,” Lamberth said. “They’re coming in and out of the criminal justice system. $3.3 million is worth it to get these people help, and I believe this will save their lives and others.”
In Tuesday’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting, the bill saw bipartisan support.
“It’s the best way to deliver justice, make it more efficient, make it more effective,” said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis.
The crisis reached widespread attention for the death of Belmont student Gillian Ludwig, who was killed by a man accused of a felony who had been released back onto the streets after being deemed incompetent to stand trial.
A WSMV4 Investigation found Ludwig is not the only victim to be allegedly murdered by someone charged with a felony and deemed incompetent to stand trial.
However, Lamberth’s bill is for those accused of misdemeanor offenses.
Lamberth has indicated he intends to introduce another bill that addresses the problem of felony offenders who are deemed incompetent to stand trial.