Legislation intended to prevent the release of hundreds of violent, mentally ill convicts won the endorsement Tuesday of legislative negotiators, setting the stage for speedy passage by the Legislature.
Approval by the Senate-Assembly Conference Committee followed agreement on amendments that proponents said would put teeth back into the two bills, which had lost the support of chief backers, including Gov. George Deukmejian.
Only a week ago, Administration officials and the authors of the bills, Sens. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose) and Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), complained that the legislation had been “gutted” in the Assembly.
Deukmejian has long called for mandatory hospital treatment of mentally disturbed, violent offenders, and he included the proposal in his anti-crime initiative earlier this year.
The Administration played an active role in working out a compromise and is satisfied with the result, officials said.
Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), who drafted the controversial Assembly amendments, insisted that his chief concern was to write a bill that could survive a court test. His amendments would have allowed the continued confinement of mentally ill offenders only if the prisoners were physically violent or made credible threats while in prison.
McCorquodale and others argued, however, that mentally ill criminals are unlikely to exhibit violent tendencies in the controlled environment of a prison. Margolin disagreed, but he withdrew his amendments in favor of other protections for the prisoners’ rights.
In its final form, the legislation would allow the state Board of Prison Terms to commit mentally ill prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes to mental hospitals as part of their parole.
In order for that to happen, mental-health professionals would have to agree that an individual prisoner suffered from a severe mental illness that was directly related to the violent criminal acts and that the disorder was not in remission or would not remain in remission after the prisoner was released.
Any prisoner who objected to hospitalization would be entitled to a jury trial.
After the parole period ended, or when the mentally ill prisoner was about to be released unconditionally, state officials could try to persuade a jury to send the individual to a state mental hospital for up to a year at a time.
The legislation would not apply to those who became mentally ill only after they were in prison. No one is certain how many prisoners would be confined under the statue, but one estimate put the total at more than 1,000.
Civil liberties groups continued to oppose the compromise measure.