Lawyers for the behavioral health agency did not object to Prior’s order. Nor did they explain why the state kept Felder in the prison hospital for more than a decade without seeking a judge’s permission each year, as the law requires. The Journal-Constitution reported last month that Felder had not appeared in court since 2006, even though a handwritten note in her case file reminded lawyers she was supposed to have an annual hearing.
District Attorney Stephen Bradley said in court Friday that an earlier attempt to move Felder into a community setting had fallen apart. He described Felder, who has a history of aggressive and, at times, violent behavior, as being in “a very difficult placement situation.” She allegedly injured three Central State workers during separate altercations in 2005.
“She was a substantial handful,” Bradley said. “She was violent and difficult.”
But more recent psychiatric evaluations have found Felder far less prone to outbursts. Doctors at the prison hospital have said she no longer requires institutional care.
She has been in state custody since she was 2, when social workers removed her from her family’s home because of abuse.
As the judge signed a document ordering Felder’s release, he offered her a chance to speak for herself — a courtesy he didn’t afford her 12 years ago before sending her a psychiatric facility and banishing her from Milledgeville.
Felder stood before the judge in a patterned green dress and green cardigan, one of the few outfits she occasionally gets to wear instead of hospital scrubs.
“I want to live my life on the outside,” she said. “I want to work. I want to do good and hold my head up and do the right thing.”
“Ms. Felder,” the judge said, “we’re all hoping that happens for you.”