Lost and forgotten - key points

Disability Rights Washington’s (DRW) report, Lost and Forgotten, details the deplorable conditions of confinement for individuals with disabilities who wait weeks or months in jail for court-ordered competency evaluation and restoration services.  

The following are key points from the report with actions people can take if they want to work on fixing the problem:

Lost and Forgotten provides a glimpse at the reality most Washingtonians do not get to see because it is behind locked doors 

Congress has given DRW, the protection and advocacy system for Washington State, unique access to facilities in which people with disabilities reside for the very purpose of uncovering whether there are problems with the conditions in those facilities. Every state and territory has a protection and advocacy system like DRW and we are all federally mandated to investigate and advocate against abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities.    

For several years, DRW has looked at how people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries are affected by excessive delays waiting in jail for the delivery of court-ordered competency evaluation and restoration services.  See report background pp. 4-5.  

DRW monitored the conditions of these individuals’ confinement for six months at eight county jails (King, Snohomish, Pierce, Clark, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, and Spokane County Jails).  See report methodology p. 6.  

Lost and Forgotten Report highlights the human cost on vulnerable citizens  

Often people with disabilities are arrested for low level crimes like trespassing, vagrancy, or harassment but end up having their charges dropped.  Yet, due to the excessive delays in receiving the court-ordered competency evaluation and restoration services, these individuals are “serving” more time in jail than had they been convicted.

Jails are not equipped to provide the level of treatment necessary to serve people with disabilities. See jail conditions pp. 7-14.   Often people with disabilities who are in local jails receive little or no mental health treatment, are isolated with no direct human contact, in a cell with no toilet or furniture for 23-24 hours a day, wearing only a smock with no pants or underclothing, as days become weeks, then months, all while the symptoms of their disabilities get worse.  See personal stories pp. 15-20.

The solution to this problem requires coordination of systems  

The solution to this problem requires coordinated policy and budgetary decisions regarding three interrelated systems: the community mental health system; the criminal justice system, and the inpatient treatment system. See conclusion pp. 21-23.  

There are many changes that need to take place.  Three steps the interrelated systems could take to address this critical issue are:

1) Divert Individuals from Jail: provide community-based mental health services to keep individuals out of jail and connected to needed resources; 

2) Improve Jail Conditions: expand several promising practices currently being conducted by county jails found in the conclusion of Lost and Forgotten. pp.  22-23; and

3) Reduce Recidivism: ensure that individuals with disabilities receive appropriate discharge plans from the jail and the hospital so that each individual has the housing, mental health, and other supports necessary to re-enter the community successfully.    

Taking action to address the needs of one system without the others is not only an insufficient band-aid, but could also have unintended consequences in the other systems, the costs of which, as we have already seen, will be borne by individuals with disabilities.