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Law

Deal over lawsuit could keep Washington's mentally ill out of jail

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle will decide whether to approve a settlement requiring the state to establish programs to keep the mentally ill out of jail.
U.S. District Court
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U.S. District Court
U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle will decide whether to approve a settlement requiring the state to establish programs to keep the mentally ill out of jail.

For years, mentally ill inmates in this state have languished in county jails awaiting state evaluations to determine if they're competent to stand trial.

But according to a legal settlement announced this Thursday, people with mental illness who are caught up in Washington state’s criminal justice system would get more services.

In cases when inmates are found not competent, they often wait weeks or months more to get a bed at a state hospital.

Last year there were more than 1,700 court orders for evaluations, according to the Department of Social and Health Services. That’s a 60 percent increase since 2014, when the lawsuit was filed.

That led to a federal lawsuit and a judge's finding that the state was violating the rights of these inmates.

The state has been slow to fix the problem, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in court fines.

Now, both sides in the lawsuit have agreed to a sweeping settlement that — if approved by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle — will require the state to provide more crisis response services and diversion programs to keep the mentally ill out of jail.

The state would also have to expand competency evaluation and restoration services to reduce wait times. Still, it would be up to state lawmakers to fund these changes.

KUOW editor Gil Aegerter contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

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Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Austin Jenkins
Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."