Friday, April 3, 2015

Mental health evaluation and treatment wait times ruled unconstitutional in Washington state

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2015 at 1:35 PM

A district court decision filed yesterday says that Washington state violates the constitutional right of inmates with mental health issues who wait longer than seven days for an evaluation and treatment. 

"The mentally ill are deserving of the protections of the Constitution that our forefathers so carefully crafted," the court decision reads. "The rights protected can be difficult and sometimes costly to secure; however, the Constitution is a guarantee to all people, and is not dependent upon a price tag." 

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman has given the state nine months to hire more staff and make other accommodations for the ruling. According protections outlined in the Constitution, inmates must receive a mental health evaluation and treatment no more than seven days after a court order. Pechman will also appoint a monitor to make sure her decision is carried out.

Spokane public defender Kari Reardon was in court when a notification on her iPad alerted her to the decision, so she had to contain her OMGs. Reardon says almost all of her clients have been affected in some way by weeks-, and sometimes months-long, delays in mental competency evaluations and treatment. 

"It's delayed their trials, the resolution of their cases and getting appropriate treatment," she says, noting that victims of crimes are impacted as well as because trials can't begin until the evaluations are completed. "Judge Pechman's ruling was on point. This will make a difference for people who are in need of help. It will make a difference in the lives of many."

The court decision clearly states that jails are toxic environments for people with mental illnesses. They are frequently put in solitary confinement, not for disciplinary reasons, but for their "erratic or unpredictable behavior" that can result in more charges. Incarceration "exacerbates" symptoms, sometimes to a point of no return, and increases the likelihood of suicide, according to the decision.

The only negative outcome Reardon can foresee at this point is the cost to the Department of Social and Health Services, the agency responsible for overseeing evaluations per Washington state law, and the defendant in the suit. But it costs money to prosecute people, too, she adds. 

Read the entire decision below: 

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law - 131

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.