KING COUNTY, Wash. — Alexander Jay waited for nearly a year behind bars at the King County Jail before being transported on March 3 to Western State Hospital for mental health treatment.
State law, as well as federal and superior court orders mandate inmates like Jay who are deemed incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness must be moved to a state psychiatric facility within seven days. In Jay’s case, it was 299 days since King County Superior Court Judge Johanna Bender signed the order for treatment.
Jay is charged with assaulting a Harborview nurse at a Seattle light rail station in March, 2022, and then stabbing a woman at a Seattle bus stop the same day. In August, Jay was charged with murdering a man with a piece of rebar on Capitol Hill hours after assaulting the two strangers.
Jay’s case underscores a problem uncovered by the KING 5 Investigators in the series Mentally Ill, Waiting in Jail – hundreds of people with serious mental illness stuck in jails across Washington without access to trial or treatment.
The case gained more attention after Judge Bender ruled the state agency responsible for providing the psychiatric help, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), was in contempt of court for the delays. Bender sanctioned DSHS $250 per day for “willful failure” to “timely admit Mr. Jay to inpatient competency restoration treatment.” Bender ruled the money should be paid to Jay, with a responsible party as a custodian, until being transported to Western State.
The total for Jay added up to approximately $75,000.
“In the long run, DSHS would best serve citizens by being proactive rather than reactive about the behavioral health crisis. The money needs to go toward providing effective treatment, supportive housing and services, not toward compensating criminal defendants for the harm suffered while waiting in jail for competency restoration,” said King County Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Vasquez.
Officials for DSHS said they are working as fast as they can to build more beds and add staff to better serve defendants with severe mental illness. They said COVID created much of the backup, in addition to lack of staff and an increase in demand.
“Unfortunately, the demand for competency restoration services continues to grow and grow and grow,” said Dr. Thomas Kinlen of DSHS. “We’re doing everything possible to get them out of that situation as quickly as possible. We don’t want them in jail. That’s not what we view as the treatment that they need.”
Across the state, judges, prosecutors, mental health professionals, victim advocates, jail directors, and civil rights advocates have criticized DSHS for the delays. Some counties, including King and Pierce, have initiated legal action against the state agency to try to recoup some of the costs associated with housing a large mentally ill population in their jails.
“These costly delays by the state of Washington are demoralizing to victims, and it’s also inhumane to allow defendants to further decompensate because of DSHS’ failure to meet their important obligations,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion. “When DSHS fails to provide timely evaluations or services, judges must face the difficult decision of whether to release these individuals — many of whom are still in crisis — or dismiss the charges. It is unsafe for individuals with severe mental illness, and sometimes a history of violent behavior, to be released simply because DSHS is failing to provide legally mandated competency treatment and services.”
This year, DSHS has increased its bed capacity for mentally ill defendants. In January, the state’s first residential treatment facility opened in Centralia. The 16-bed, state-of-the-art facility is called the Civil Center for Behavioral Health at Maple Lane.
An additional 58 beds have been added at the Western State Hospital campus in 2023. These new wards were specially built to provide competency restoration services.
Watch: KING 5 investigations