Lawmakers approve expanded facility for mentally ill criminals

Officials of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services told lawmakers Wednesday the decision to add beds for mentally incompetent criminals should at least temporarily satisfy a federal judge who ruled the state was violating their rights.

The Interim Finance Committee gave final approval Wednesday to $1.4 million to add 28 beds to existing forensic mental facilities. Division administrator Carlos Brandenburg said the eight new beds have already been added to Lakes Crossing in Sparks - raising its total capacity to 56.

He said it will take until April 1 to convert half of the Dini-Townsend campus next to Lakes Crossing to a secure facility for criminal patients, adding the remaining 20 beds.

He and Human Resources counsel Cynthia Pyzel said the funding will show good faith on the part of the state to fix the problem.

U.S. Magistrate Robert Johnston ruled the state was violating the due process rights of those patients by keeping them in county detention facilities instead of putting them in treatment programs.

Gov. Kenny Guinn and the Board of Examiners voted Tuesday to send the proposal to IFC. He said the state has no choice.

"If we don't do it, my understanding is the judge will have his own plan and he'll do it," Guinn said.

Brandenburg told lawmakers Wednesday the problem is the increasing number of mentally incompetent defendants being referred to his division by judges. He attributed the increase to more judges and police on the streets who are making more arrests - especially in Southern Nevada.

Brandenburg has said the modifications to Dini-Townsend will create a secure facility for the criminal patients and keep them separate from the civilly committed patients in the other half of the campus.

He has said several times the growing caseload will require lawmakers and the governor to either build another forensic center in Southern Nevada or greatly expand Lakes Crossing.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said it's time to look at building a center in the south because that's where the majority of patients are coming from.

In other business, IFC approved nearly $569,000 for the Department of Motor Vehicles to expand service at its Galletti Way office in Reno. The money will add 27 window technicians, three supervisors and one administrative accountant to the staff to help cut wait times.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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