A.B. by and through Trueblood v DSHS: Delays in Court-Ordered Competency Services

Description of the action

Each year, thousands of individuals are sitting for weeks and even months for competency services in jails across the state. None of these people have actually been convicted of any crime, but they are held in jails ill-equipped to meet their mental health needs even though a court has ordered that they receive competency services due to concerns with their ability to stand trial. This results in long stays in jail for many people with disabilities – especially mental illness, developmental disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries – where their ability to assist with their defense or understand that nature of the charges against them is in question. This affects both people who are charged with serious crimes and others who are in crisis or homeless and charged with vagrancy, trespassing, and other nonviolent misdemeanors.

The time spent in jail is often in solitary confinement, with very limited or no mental health treatment.  Some individuals spend more time in jail awaiting competency services than they would have been jailed if they were convicted of the crime. The case on this is called A.B. by and through Trueblood et. al. v Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), No. 15–35462. This case was brought forward by Disability Rights Washington (DRW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Public Defender Association, and Carney Gillespie Isitt PLLP. Class members are all pretrial detainees waiting in jail for court-ordered competency services that Defendants are statutorily required to provide.


7 Days: Don't Ignore the Court

Case documents

Summary of work: 

Milestone: June 15, 2017

The State of Washington remains in contempt of court for failing to reduce wait times for inpatient competency services. The contempt fines have accrued to over $20 million. The last month’s fines alone exceed $3 million. The Trueblood parties are working collaboratively to launch a Phase II Request for Proposals seeking experienced diversion providers. Similar to Phase I, this RFP will use contempt fines to fund either A) screening and referral of class members who are in jail to other less restrictive settings including community services and/or B) intensive supports to class members upon release from jail to help ensure that they can stay safe in their own homes and communities. Phase II Applications are due on August 15, 2017. Prospective bidders questions and responses regarding Phase II can be found here.

Milestone: March 21, 2017

The U.S. District Court ordered [PDF] disbursment of $4.2 million of contempt sanctions currently in the Court’s registry to fund five diversion programs throughout the state. The five programs awarded funds are King County, Comprehensive Mental Health Services in Yakima, Kitsap County Mental Health, Sunrise Services in Snohomish County, and Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization. The goal of these programs is to divert people with disabilities out of the criminal justice system and into community supports or behavioral health programs that are better designed to meet their needs. Plantiffs' council issued this related press release.

Milestone: December 5, 2016

The U.S. District Court issues the 2017 Trueblood Jail Diversion Request for Proposals, seeking existing, experienced, and credentialed providers of screening and re-entry services for class members.

Milestone: October 13, 2016

The U.S. District Court awarded Plaintiff's Fees and Costs [PDF].

Milestone: August 19, 2016

The Trueblood Diversion Workgroup provided the U.S. District Court with their proposed diversion plan. The plan’s goal is diverting people with mental illness and other disabilities from the criminal justice system and supporting them in the community.

Milestone: August 15, 2016

The U.S. District Court issued its Modified Permanent Injunction [PDF].

The Honorable Marsha Pechman has ordered DSHS to take immediate steps to reduce the length of time class members are waiting in jail. DSHS is required to admit class members waiting for inpatient evaluation or restoration within seven days of the court order. DSHS is also required to complete jail-based competency evaluation within fourteen days.

Milestone: July 7, 2016

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman granted the Plaintiffs' motion for contempt and began fining the state every day ($500 for each class member waiting in jail between 7 and 14 days and $1000 for each class member waiting in jail longer than 14 days) until DSHS is in compliance with court orders regarding inpatient evaluation and restoration. The Court also directed that the fines be used to divert class members from jail.

The Court held DSHS in contempt because it has been unable to comply with reducing wait times for admission services to seven days or less. Under the direction of the Court and its Monitor, the parties formed the Trueblood Diversion Workgroup and are working collaboratively to develop a diversion plan to identify third parties who will use the contempt funds to divert class members out of the criminal justice system and into systems and programs better designed to treat class members’ needs.

Milestone: June 6, 2016

The Court granted Plaintiff's Temporary Restraining Order [PDF] given the serious risks of harm we raised regarding the conditions at Maple Lane, a Department of Corrections facility that DSHS has temporarily converted into an alternative site for competency restoration services.  Previous to the lawsuit, all competency restoration services were perfomed at the state psychiatric hospitals.

Milestone: April 14, 2016

The Court granted in part our Motion for Temporary Restraining Order [PDF] given the serious risks of harm we raised regarding the Yakima County Corrections Center, another alternative competency restoration site built in a jail that currently houses inmates and other detainees.

Milestone: February 8, 2016

On February 8, 2016, the U.S. District Court modified its injunction [PDF] to give DSHS more time to comply with the Court’s order. DSHS now has until May 27, 2016, to reduce wait times for competency services to seven days or less. While granting the extension, the Court also noted, “The recent deaths of two class members incarcerated while waiting for competency services highlight the importance of the constitutional rights at stake here, and the gravity of Defendants’ failure to protect those rights.” The Court ordered DSHS to follow the Court’s step-by-step roadmap to resolve the delays in competency services. DRW and our co-counsel will be watching very closely to see if DSHS actually complies with the Court’s order.

Milestone: January 25, 2016

On January 25, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman scheduled an all-day hearing reading the case. The Court wanted to hear from DSHS about why the state failed to comply with the Court's order by the January 2, 2016 deadline. The Court's ruling was anticipated in the next few weeks.

Milestone: April 2, 2015

The Honorable Marsha J. Pechman ruled today [PDF] it is unconstitutional for class members to wait more than seven days for court-ordered competency services. The Court went on to order that the State take immediate steps to reduce the length of time class members are waiting so that no one is waiting more than seven days. Finally, the Court appointed a monitor to ensure timely progression towards meeting that goal within nine months.