The judge said Washington is still too slow with mental health services for incarcerated people

A federal judge is being asked to consider whether a Washington state social services agency should face the consequences of significant delays in providing mental health services to incarcerated people.

Disability rights Washington has applied to federal court alleging that the Department of Social and Health Services is in violation 2018 settlement To provide timely efficiency recovery services to thousands of people waiting in prisons. The nonprofit civil rights group is asking the court to consider returning the fines and using other means to force DSHS into compliance.

These defendants either do not understand the charges against them or are unable to assist their attorneys in their defence; In either case, they are entitled to an evaluation by a mental health professional who decides if they are eligible to go to trial. If they are not, the state is obligated to provide psychological services aimed at restoring their competence before their cases can move forward.

In a meeting Wednesday with the DRW and state parties, US District Judge Marsha Bechman called the new motion “extremely serious” and said she expected to schedule a hearing to examine evidence and hear testimony as soon as February.

The state has long struggled to move people from prison to these services. Under the settlement in the federal court case known as Trueblood, the state must begin providing mental health care no later than seven days after a competency assessment. But in recent years, waiting times have swelled to weeks or months as people are stuck in jail. As of October 2022, the DRW says, wait times for mental health services averaged 83 days.

Washington is building a new 350-bed facility on the Western State Hospital campus that could ease wait times, however Construction will not be completed for several years. Meanwhile, the state has closed wards to make room for the new facility, but has yet to open enough new mental health beds in the communities to make up for the closure.

DSHS data indicates that the demand for competency assessments and mental health services is getting worse. In 2022, for example, there was 2,397 requests for competency restoration services37% more than the previous year.

In response to DRW’s motion, DSHS said last week that it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars and making progress toward its commitments, but that a settlement will take years to deliver.

The government agency added that a wave of patients who can’t get a trial at all and who have been ordered into state psychiatric hospitals – known as “civilian conversion” patients – are taking beds that would otherwise be used to restore competence.

Kimberly Mosoliff, DRW, said the state should have anticipated the bottleneck caused by the high number of civilian shift patients.

“This was like a freight train going down the tracks,” she said. “In no way can I be persuaded that this was neither foreseeable nor entirely preventable, and that the state continued to move forward with this plan without adequate beds or other options for those residents while those hospital beds were locked down.”

The bottleneck isn’t a surprise, but “the level of demand is probably higher than expected,” said DSHS spokesman Tyler Hemstreet.

On Wednesday, DSHS officials acknowledged that the new Western state facility would take years to complete, but said two new wings — totaling 58 new efficiency recovery beds — could open in early February or March. A new 16-bed residential treatment facility is expected to open in Thurston County in February, Hamstreet said, which will divert civilian patients from the western state to make room for those who need to regain competence.

The feud dates back to 2014 when Washington sued Disability Rights — and in 2015, won — a case that forced Washington to provide timely competency assessments and treatment to incarcerated people. Pechman has Twice I found the state in violation of the 2015 order, with related fines running into the tens of millions of dollars.

In 2018, Pechman agreed to a settlement between DRW and DSHS that was intended to force the state into compliance. The settlement requires Washington to add competency recovery beds, reduce the number of competency assessment orders by strengthening outpatient programs, among other things. In contrast, contempt fines continue to accrue, but the state can avoid paying them if it complies with the settlement.

The latest motion by the DRW asserts that the state has failed to live up to its obligations, and asks the court to return those fines.

King, Snohomish and Pierce counties are also joining the fray, and delivered a brief last week detailing the costs to county governments and local taxpayers as delays in efficiency restoration services reach new levels. For example, the provinces wrote, the provincial jails are where the accused lie while they await services. The districts are responsible for recruiting and maintaining designated crisis responders, administering the Involuntary Treatment Act courts and contracting with behavioral health providers who provide court-mandated care.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Beckman outlined the questioning she might follow during the hearing, including how much progress the state has made since the 2015 decision, how the state makes decisions about placing people in state hospitals, and why the state is struggling to expand its jurisdiction. Manpower assessment.

“One of the questions we’ll have to answer is, ‘Is it too little, too late,'” Bechman said.

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