Report evaluates mental health in jail

Emily Cooper
DRW Investigator

Disability Rights Washington (DRW) recently toured eight county jails across Washington, to better understand how people with disabilities end up in jail, and the conditions under which they are held.  DRW gathered stories and information of individuals with mental health issues or other disabilities, especially when the disability prevents one from assisting in his/her own defense. 

The laws of Washington set out a legal process under RCW 10.77 where people arrested for crimes but not competent to stand trial are court-ordered for evaluation. Evaluations come from one of two state psychiatric hospitals, Eastern State Hospital (“ESH”) or Western State Hospital (“WSH”).  The legal process entails essentially two steps. First, a competency evaluation is ordered.  If the individual is competent, the trial proceeds.  If the individual is found not competent, - the second step -  the court will order the individual to ESH or WSH to see if the individual can be restored to competency. 

DRW’s monitoring plan sought to document the length of time people with mental health issues wait in jail for evaluation or restoration services from either ESH or WSH. It also examined jail conditions during an individual’s period of incarceration.  Additionally, DRW monitored any harm people with mental health issues faced, waiting in jail, to determine if the delay in either evaluation or restoration services impacted health and welfare.  

DRW will use this information to compile a report for the Washington State Legislature in December 2012.  This report is a result of DRW’s investigation and compares individual delays for evaluation or restoration services and Substitute Senate Bill 6492 (subsequently RCW 10.77.60), approved on March 30, 2012.  The changes to the law include a seven-day wait period for in-jail evaluation services and 21-day wait period for community-based evaluation services at either WSH or ESH. 

In writing this report, DRW’s goal is to educate the Legislature about the conditions and lives of mentally ill clients held in local jails.  DRW’s report will include information about the effects of solitary confinement, delays in obtaining competency evaluations and a description of how long clients found incompetent wait before being transferred to a hospital for restoration.  The report will include a description of what is and isn’t working with recommendations for change.

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