Trial to Solve the State’s Long Delays in Providing Mental Health Services to Individuals in Jail

News Release: 
Monday, March 16, 2015

Federal Court Has Ruled the Delays Violate the Constitution 

A trial in the lawsuit A.B. v. DSHS begins on Monday, March 16 in U.S. District Court in Seattle to determine the remedy for the State’s long delays in providing needed mental health services for individuals in jail. The federal court ruled on December 22, 2014 that the persistent delays in the provision of court-ordered competency evaluation and restoration services to pre-trial detainees incarcerated in jails violates constitutional due process rights.

Under state law, whenever there is reason to doubt that individuals with mental disabilities is competent to stand trial, the court must order an evaluation by one of the state mental hospitals to determine competency and treat these individuals.  If competency is restored, the criminal case may proceed; if it is not restored, the criminal charges are dismissed.

Unfortunately, the state has failed to perform these services on a timely basis. Stays of criminal proceedings pending evaluation and restoration of competency often last for months. As a result, individuals with mental health disabilities have languished in city and county jails without appropriate mental health treatment while awaiting transport to ESH or WSH.

Warehousing these vulnerable people in jail is harmful. The delays cause individuals to experience needless deterioration in their mental health as they sit in jails – frequently in solitary confinement for 22 to 23 hours a day – for weeks and months on end. Jail disciplinary systems can further exacerbate mental health conditions. People often end up spending more time waiting in jail than they would if they had pleaded guilty. Some lose their homes, their belongings, or their eligibility for community-based services.

The case is being handled by attorneys for the ACLU of Washington, Disability Rights Washington, the Public Defender Association, and Carney Gillespie Isitt PLLP.