A federal judge found Washington state in contempt and ordered it to pay more than $100 million in fines for failing to provide timely psychiatric services to mentally ill people who are forced to wait in jails for weeks or months. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said the Washington Department of Social and Health Services has been violating the constitutional rights of people since 2015 due to a “lack of foresight, creativity, planning and timely response to a crisis of its own making.” 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 defendants must be provided services to restore their competency, reports the Associated Press.
A lack of funding, personnel and beds in mental health facilities forced defendants to wait in jails for extended periods, which violated their rights, the lawsuit charged. The state entered into a settlement agreement in 2018 and agreed to address the wait times, but they’ve only grown longer, Pechman said. Instead of providing more space in its psychiatric hospitals, the state closed wards. “The Court is unpersuaded that DSHS adequately planned for and took reasonable measures to address the bed shortage,” Pechman said. It continued to accrue fines as it missed its court-ordered marks. Those funds were held in abeyance, but Pechman now wants the state to pay $100 million in fines.