PHOENIX — Most people probably don't think twice when they drive by the big complex at 24th and Van Buren streets heading east out of downtown Phoenix.
Inside the barbed wire fencing is Arizona's State Hospital, housing some of the state's most violent offenders. And until this year, it was home to a five-person Board that made important decisions about the state's criminally-insane population.
But in 2022, too many people on the Psychiatric Security Review Board quit and it couldn't function for a majority of the year, meaning most people scheduled for Board check-ins this year have been waiting in limbo.
On Wednesday, the 12News I-Team released a bonus episode for their "Locked Inside" podcast, examining what happened to the Board, known as the PSRB, and what will happen to the people under its watch.
History of the PSRB
The Psychiatric Security Review Board was formed in 1994, when the state's guilty except insane law went into effect.
The Board was tasked with monitoring the state's guilty except insane population, which is made up of people who have committed violent crimes, like murder or aggravated assault, and are sentenced to the state psychiatric hospital for treatment.
State data from 2021 shows the Board is overseeing 114 people, 100 at the state hospital and 14 living in the community. The Board was supposed to meet each month to routinely review each person's case or to make decisions about whether a person was able to be released to the community.
A new law passed in 2021 did away with one of the Board members and by the end of January 2022, two other members resigned and the Board couldn't establish quorum to meet.
Governor Doug Ducey's Office told 12News it was working to appoint new members, but ultimately never filled the vacancies.
The Board posted a bulletin indicating that meetings would be canceled going forward. Online records show the PSRB only met once in 2022, instead of monthly like it should have.
Gilbert group home killing
The Board came under scrutiny in 2021 in the wake of an April 2021 Gilbert group home killing, when resident Christopher Lambeth, who was under the Board’s watch, was accused of murdering housemate Steven Howells.
Lambeth had been under the Board's watch since he was determined to be guilty except insane in 2007 after murdering his grandparents at their home outside of Tucson two years prior.
With the guilty except insane plea, Lambeth was sentenced to 25 years to life in the Arizona State Hospital for treatment. But he was ultimately released by the PSRB to live in the community in 2016, less than 10 years into his sentence.
The Board declined to comment on Lambeth's release and decision to allow him to live in the community.
Moving to courts
A few weeks after the group home murder, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new law dissolving the Board at the end of the year. Starting in 2023, all the guilty except insane cases will be monitored by courts statewide.
"The Psychiatric Security review Board has been under-resourced for a long time," said Will Humble, former director of Arizona's Department of Health Services.
Humble said he was in favor of the move to courts, especially given its inability to meet for most of 2022.
"They have a statutory responsibility to make sure that when people are in community placement, that there's somebody looking into how things are going, looking at the treatment plan, looking at is it still a safe placement for the community and for the patient?" Humble said. "And you can be sure that people have grievances about their treatment plans at the state hospital and they've got nowhere to go."
A spokesperson for the state health department told 12News that the people deemed guilty except insane at the state hospital continue to receive treatment and those living in the community should be monitored by their outpatient teams.
The Board’s former Chairman, Dr. James Clark, called the move a “legislative blunder” in his resignation letter, saying he wasn’t sure the courts could handle the additional caseload among other concerns.
Dr. James Clark declined to do an interview with 12News regarding his resignation letter.
Time will tell as to whether the move to courts will better monitor the population.
A spokesperson for the health department says it's been "engaged with Superior Court leadership" to make sure they're ready to work with the court come January.
12News is waiting for a response from Maricopa County Superior Court on how the transition will take place.
You can download and listen to our entire series Locked Inside, including Episode 8, Solutions, wherever you listen to podcasts.
LOCKED INSIDE PODCAST: TILDA MANOR COVERAGE
Locked Inside, a new 12-News I-Team and VAULT Studios podcast, follows the harrowing and heartbreaking story of Christopher Lambeth and those who crossed his path along the way. It’s a big mystery with police reports, crime scenes and mounting evidence. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill true crime podcast.