Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Settlement Provides for Improved Competency Procedures for Jailed Mentally Ill in Washington State

Washington State federal district court has approved a settlement in the Trueblood case, a class-action lawsuit filed in 2014 to reform Washington’s forensic mental health system. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.22].

The complaint alleged that “individuals with mental health disabilities have languished in city and county jails for weeks and months without appropriate mental health treatment while awaiting transport to [Eastern State Hospital or Western State Hospital] for evaluation and restoration of competency.” 

The pretrial detainees awaiting evaluation, who were usually housed in segregation, “suffer[ed] needless deterioration in their mental health.” Some spent more time in jail awaiting competency services than they would if convicted and sentenced to jail time.

Over the past few years, “Washington State has failed to follow the federal Court Order in the Trueblood case,” Disability Rights Washington contended in a statement. The parties reached a preliminary settlement in August 2018 and the district court entered final approval on December 11, 2018.

The settlement requires the state to seek funding for 18 additional forensic evaluators to meet future predicted demand. It also requires the state to “support and work to achieve legislative changes to reduce the number of people ordered into competency evaluation and restoration, and to use community based restoration services.”

The state must seek funding for the forensic evaluators, which is a new role in the mental health system. The evaluators “will assist Class Members in accessing services related to diversion and community outpatient competency restoration.” The settlement includes three phases that seek to increase overall capacity for crisis stabilization units and/or triage facilities.

In addition to seeking funding for the new mental health beds, the state must also provide funds for residential support capacity in the outpatient community.

A preventative aspect of the settlement requires the state to seek funding to “provide law enforcement agencies with dedicated qualified mental health professionals to assist officers in ... [promoting] diversion of people experiencing behavioral health crisis from arrest and incarceration.” The settlement also sets a 25 percent target rate for crisis training of patrol officers in each region. A Peer Support Program will create a core curriculum for training “in the specialized enhanced program for criminal justice.”

The litigation resulted in the district court finding the state in contempt, resulting in “tens of millions of dollars in monetary sanctions” for failure to comply with its orders. In 2016, “the court ordered this money be used to fund programs that keep class members out of jail, creating a Trueblood Diversion Workgroup.”

The workgroup has awarded grants to service providers that are fulfilling that purpose, and the Seattle Foundation is serving as fiscal sponsor of that program. The court has continued to impose sanctions against the state for failure to follow its orders, including, most recently, a $339,750 sanction on March 19, 2019. See: Trueblood v. WA State Department of Social and Health Services, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 2:14-cv-01178-MJP. 


Additional source: Disability Rights Washington

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Trueblood v. WA State Department of Social and Health Services