Director of the Treatment Facilities Program
Disability Rights Washington
Christopher Carney, Attorney
Carney Gillespie Isitt PLLP
SEATTLE – The State of Washington has once again been held in contempt for its decade-long failure
to provide timely psychiatric services to people with serious behavioral health disorders and other
disabilities who are stuck waiting in jails.
As the Court pointed out, since the Federal Court found that Washington was violating class members’
constitutional rights in 2015, the State has never once come into compliance with the Court’s order. In
fact, its noncompliance has greatly worsened over the past 18 months due to its own poor planning and
Despite knowing that a backlog of demand was coming due to court slowdowns during the height of
the COVID epidemic, the State chose to shut down critical state hospital beds. At the same time, the
State inexplicably chose to prioritize civil patients for admission over the members of the class made
up of people waiting for inpatient forensic services. This decision was particularly problematic
because forensic patients have a constitutional right to prompt admission to the hospital, which civil
patients do not.
Even once the inflow of civil patients began to fill forensic beds that were needed for class members,
the State continued to close more wards. Ultimately the State closed 180 beds, resulting in a high of
over 180 civil patients stuck in forensic beds. Not until wait times for class members stuck in jails
reached over ten months did the State begin to limit admissions for civil patients into forensic beds.
Because of these errors made by the State, people with serious behavioral health disorders and other
disabilities continue suffer in jail, sometimes in irreversible ways. To make matters worse, these
vulnerable people are harmed waiting months for services that persistently fail to meet their needs or
solve any real problems. Simply put, competency restoration is not treatment and does not achieve
long-term stability for vulnerable people who are repeatedly cycling through the criminal legal system.
During the hearing, the Court heard evidence describing the backgrounds and circumstances of class
members. The average class member stuck in jail is a person of color, chronically homeless or
unstably housed, living in desperate poverty with little or no access to any type of care in the
community. Many of them have other chronic medical conditions that go untreated or undertreated.
These class members are overwhelmingly likely to have been through the competency services system
before, and average of three or more times within a five-year period. Prosecuting these vulnerable
people accomplishes little or nothing in the end; they are simply released to the streets at the end of
each turn through the revolving door with no housing or services to keep them stable, resulting in
rapid decompensation and re-arrest for yet another low-level offense. Competency services are not
the answer for public safety or for the well-being and safety of class members.
Instead, voluminous evidence shows that we should be directing our efforts toward building
supportive housing for class members. Simply providing a humble studio apartment with staffing and
medication supports has been repeatedly proven to drastically reduce re-arrest, re-hospitalizations, and
“We just keep throwing away resources and causing harm trying the wrong solutions,” said
Christopher Carney, of Carney Gillespie PLLP. “If what we want is to save lives and improve public
safety, we know arrest and competency services are not the way to get there. Our clients need homes
and help, not more punishment.”
“Cities and Counties in the State of Washington need to take a long, hard look at how they are
responding to low-level non-violent crimes for people with serious behavioral health issues,” said
Kimberly Mosolf, Director of the Treatment Facilities Program at Disability Rights Washington.
“Arrest and competency restoration for these misdemeanor and low-level felony cases does not work.
It is wasteful, ineffective, and most importantly, harmful.”
The State and Plaintiffs are ordered to confer with the Court Monitor to develop a plan to reduce the
backlog of civil patients occupying critical forensic beds. The State is also ordered to immediately stop
admitting new civil patients into forensic beds, unless there has been a special finding that the patients
present a serious risk of committing further violent felonies. The State faces additional fines for delays
in reducing backlogs and transferring civil patients out of forensic beds. The Court Monitor will
oversee an expert evaluation of civil admissions at the state hospitals, and will convene a workgroup to
use the fines imposed by the Court for the benefit of class members.
“We are looking forward to helping with the swift implementation of this Court Order. Our clients are
long overdue for relief,” said Beth Leonard, an attorney with Disability Rights Washington. “This
Order will make real improvements on a reasonable timeline for the most vulnerable Washingtonians.”
The full contempt Order can be found here: https://www.disabilityrightswa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Trueblood-contempt-order-7-7-23.pdf