The Alaska Psychiatric Institute is getting help from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to address the backlog of people waiting in jail for a psychiatric evaluation.

There are an estimated 45 defendants waiting for evaluations, according to a press release sent Monday by the Trust. Its seven-member board of trustees voted Thursday to set aside $150,000 to help the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).

"Alaskans shouldn't wait in jail for 7 weeks for their competency to be determined," Trust CEO Mike Abbott wrote in the Monday release. "We appreciate the department addressing this pressing need. With this allocation of Trust funds, beneficiaries in this legal limbo can receive their evaluation and then have their cases resolved in a timelier manner."

DHSS will begin evaluating people immediately and hope to be finished by mid-May. The evaluations are required when a person has been charged with a crime and there is a question of whether the person understands the charges and legal proceedings against them.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority administers the Mental Health Trust, which operates much like a private foundation. According to the release, its goal is to make sure Alaska has a mental health program to serve people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic alcoholism and other substance-related disorders. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s made the decision to privatize the institute’s management, awarding a no bid $1-million-per-month contract to Wellpath Recovery Solutions. 

In March, a report from the state ombudsman substantiated allegations of improper conduct at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute spanning a four-year period, and offered state officials nearly a dozen recommendations for change.

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