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From Hospitals to Handcuffs: Criminalizing Patients in Crisis


September 2020

Click here to view addendum as PDF.

Click here to view addendum in Word.

In addition to DRW’s investigation into criminalization of patients in crisis in Seattle described in From Hospital to Handcuffs, DRW also looked into similar incidents in Spokane.  The result of the Spokane investigation is an addendum report that should be read together with From Hospital to Handcuffs.  DRW found many of the same concerns around ineffective arrest and prosecution of patients in crisis in Spokane as it did in Seattle, but Spokane also presented its own specific issues and resulting recommendations.

Picture of a solitary confinement cell with a pink door and silver toilet visible.

From Hospitals to Handcuffs: Criminalizing Patients in Crisis

May 2020

Click here to view report as PDF.

Click here to view report in Word.

Person walking away from camera wearing a weighted jacket and handcuffs. Background shows a jail.


In From Hospitals to Handcuffs, DRW found that hospital calls to police resulted in at least two patients per week being arrested, removed from treatment, and booked into jail.  In most of these cases, there was no visible injury to a victim.  These arrests lead to sick people stuck in jail for weeks or months, decompensating, with decreased access to needed health care.  Many of the criminal cases are ultimately dismissed precisely because the person’s mental health is so compromised.

Criminalization of health-related behaviors does not help patients recover from crisis and it does not reduce rates of workplace violence for health care providers. Health care staff should not have to face stress and potential injury from workplace violence, but there are effective techniques to treat patients with significant behavioral health needs that do not require arrest.  From Hospitals to Handcuffs makes multiple recommendations to health care facilities, police, prosecutors, and policymakers, and concludes:

“Every person providing health care and every person who needs it deserves a system that is humane and responsive. No one should fear going to work just as no one should fear that the symptoms that brought them to a hospital will lead instead to jail.”

Media Coverage

May 26, 2020

Seattle Times – “New report: Arrests at Seattle hospitals highlight gaps in mental-health systems”