Skip to content

Washington State Fined $100 Million for Failing to Give Mentally Ill People in Jails Adequate Services

Washington State Fined 0 Million for Failing to Give Mentally Ill People in Jails Adequate Services

A judge is ordering Washington state to pay more than $100 million in fines after finding that state officials failed to provide adequate mental health services to mentally ill people in jail.

The ruling stems from a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of people with mental health disabilities who were charged with crimes and ordered by a judge to have a competency evaluation. If found incompetent to face charges, the state must then provide services to restore their competency to stand for trial.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, in an order late Friday (pdf), found the state in contempt and said that the Washington Department of Social and Health Services has been making mentally ill people charged with crimes wait in jails for extended periods for their competency evaluations, violating their constitutional rights.

Ms. Pechman said the department had breached a preliminary injunction that required court-ordered competency evaluations for those in jail within 14 days, and for those at state hospitals within seven days. People who are then found to be incompetent to stand trial must be admitted for restoration services within seven days.

According to the lawsuit, a lack of funding, personnel, and beds in mental health facilities resulted in the long waiting times. Ms. Pechman said in her ruling that the main reason for the situation was the department’s “own lack of foresight, creativity, planning, and timely response to a crisis of its own making.”

Washington state entered into a settlement agreement in 2018 and agreed to address the wait times. But they’ve only grown longer, Ms. Pechman said.

She also noted that Washington state was previously found in contempt of violating the settlement agreement on two other occasions, which resulted in $400 million in fines. The department has paid some $100 million of those fines.

The remaining was held in abeyance in the hope of compliance, but the judge is now ordering the state to pay $100 million of those fines.

Ms. Pechman said that instead of providing more space in its psychiatric hospitals, the state removed civil beds at one of the hospitals, and closed wards.

“The Court is unpersuaded that [the Washington Department of Social and Health Services] adequately planned for and took reasonable measures to address the bed shortage,” Ms. Pechman said.

Norah West, a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, said officials were “assessing the ruling and understanding what the court wants us to do.”

Beth Leonard, an attorney with Disability Rights Washington, said in a statement Saturday that the order “will make real improvements on a reasonable timeline for the most vulnerable Washingtonians.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *