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Judge asked to fine DSHS additional $250 million for leaving mentally ill inmates in Washington jails

Civil rights attorneys filed a motion against DSHS for alleged violations of the Trueblood case that set timelines for providing services to mentally ill inmates.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Civil rights advocates from Disability Rights Washington (DRW) filed a motion in federal court Thursday asking a judge to hit the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional sanctions for failing to provide timely mental health services to inmates deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Attorneys for DRW said they had no choice but to file the motion seeking additional sanctions to incentivize the state to comply with timelines set by Judge Marsha Pechman in the landmark Trueblood case, originally filed in 2014 against DSHS.

“We’ve hit a point where we don’t feel we have any other option,” said Kim Mosolf, a DRW attorney. “We feel forced to take this step on behalf of our class members.”

Judge Pechman ruled that DSHS must transport seriously mentally ill inmates from local jails to a state psychiatric facility within seven days. But throughout 2022 the wait times have increased to eight, nine, and 10 months.

“Longer wait times in jail means more harm – more time in solitary confinement, more time for illness to become … harder to treat, and more time not receiving the health care they need,” wrote attorneys for DRW in the legal filing.

Plaintiff attorneys who represent approximately 600 people currently sitting in jails said the wait times violate the court’s order and provisions in a 2018 settlement agreement that put fines on hold. The new motion asks the judge to order those sanctions be paid because the state is in “material breach” of the agreement.

Before the settlement agreement, DSHS paid $98 million in fines for not meeting treatment deadlines. The outstanding bill for the on-hold sanctions is an additional $250 million.

Officials for DSHS said they have fulfilled their duties under the agreement.

“We disagree that it is in breach of the obligations the department committed to in the context of the Trueblood case and agreement. We have built more beds than were committed to in the agreement, and implemented new services across the state of Washington, as required. In the face of new and unexpected challenges that were not part of the settlement and were not even contemplated at the time the settlement was created, we are developing new solutions and treatment options,” wrote Lisa Pemberton, media relations manager for DSHS.

The motion also asks Judge Pechman to order DSHS to institute other conditions to alleviate wait times, including:

  • Cease admitting patients who are in the civil system, except for violent felony cases.
  • Discharge civil patients who can safely be released into a community setting.
  • Double the daily sanctions for people waiting more than seven days for hospital transport.

Officials from DSHS have said they didn’t foresee the drastic increase in people who need what are called “competency restoration services” at state facilities. In the last year, that demand has increased by nearly 40%, state records show.

Judge Pechman is expected to take up the issues outlined in the newly filed motion at a Trueblood status hearing on January 18.

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