Lack of patient information blamed for slow prisoner transfers

Claude Shafer Jr.

State officials say delays in gathering background information on prisoners such as accused murderer Claude Shafer Jr. are a likely cause for the slow pace in fulfilling orders to transfer them to hospitals for treatment of mental disorders.

Shafer, 37, has remained in the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail for more than a month since Shenandoah County Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp granted a motion by defense attorneys seeking the defendant’s transfer to Central State Hospital in Petersburg.

Shafer is facing a capital murder charge in the stabbing death of Phyllis Kline, 65, of Edinburg in June 2013. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Shafer’s attorneys, Edward Ungvarsky and Timothy Coyne, have argued that their client’s mental state in the jail has deteriorated to the point where he is no longer competent to stand trial.

Hupp received a letter from a jail staff member in early March stating she had been told by a Central State Hospital staff member that Shafer would be placed on a waiting list, but that it could take three weeks or longer before he could be transferred.

Maria Reppas, communications director for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said Wednesday that federal patient privacy laws prohibited her from speaking about the details of Shafer’s case.

But more generally, Reppas said, there are other cases of jail inmates waiting for admission to a mental health facility and treatment aimed at restoring their competency to stand trial.

Demand for inpatient services exceeding the supply of available beds is part of the problem, but delays in obtaining legally required information about the inmate’s behavioral health history and why he is deemed incompetent to stand trial are the “biggest factors” in slowing the admission process, Reppas said.

“Upon receipt of a court order for admission, Central State Hospital communicates with the attorneys and requests this information, but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for there to be delays in the hospital actually being provided with the information,” Reppas said.

“The vast majority of individuals currently waiting for admission to Central State Hospital are waiting due to lack of these materials,” Reppas added.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com