Fines Paid by the State of Washington for Failure to Comply with Court Orders Given to Programs that Keep People with Mental Illness out of Jail

News Release: 
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
The State of Washington has paid over $12 million dollars in fines for failing to comply with a federal court’s order regarding timely provision of mental health services to those waiting for jail and for such services. These fines have accrued in the Trueblood v. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services case that involves constitutional challenges to a longstanding practice of delaying the provision of court ordered competency services. The result of these delays is that people suffer in jails without appropriate care, they often decompensate, and although they are incarcerated their criminal matters are stayed which causes undue delays in the administration of justice.
Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for Western Washington yesterday ordered more than $4.2 million of the approximately $12 million in fines paid by the State to be disbursed among five organizations that provide diversion programming and treatment to keep people with significant mental health issues from cycling into the criminal justice system.
"We look forward to each of the selected providers using funds from the contempt sanctions to divert class members out of the criminal justice system and into community supports," said Emily Cooper, attorney for Disability Rights Washington. 
“While we’re glad the fines the state has paid will help develop diversion programming to keep people with mental illness out of jail,” said La Rond Baker, ACLU-WA staff attorney, “we look forward to the day when Washington stops ignoring the constitutional rights of people who are court ordered to receive competency services and stops leaving people to languish in jails when they need mental health assessment and treatment.”
In Trueblood, the ACLU of Washington and Disability Rights Washington sued the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) on behalf of people languishing in jail for weeks or months while awaiting court-ordered evaluations to determine their competency to stand trial. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled that DSHS was violating the constitutional due process rights of people being detained.
Judge Pechman ordered the state to provide in-jail competency evaluations within fourteen days of the signing of a court order calling for an evaluation. She also ordered the state to admit persons ordered to receive in-hospital competency services within seven days of a court order calling for the services. 
Pechman also approved the selection of Seattle Foundation to work with the Court Monitor, Dr. Danna Mauch, to 1) manage disbursement of the funds accrued from the litigation and 2) provide ongoing monitoring of the funded programs, to ensure their compliance and effectiveness in serving people with mental health illness, substance abuse, and other disabilities.
“This partnership is a natural extension of Seattle Foundation’s role as a respected civic leader and steward of community resources,” said Tony Mestres, Seattle Foundation’s president and CEO.  “People with mental illnesses and disabilities have unique needs, and their overrepresentation in our prisons and on our streets is a tragedy.  These funds will be invested directly to address these needs and provide long-term supports to our community’s most vulnerable residents.”
The $4.2 million of the contempt funds disbursed by the Court for diversion services will go to the following programs chosen by the Trueblood parties and the Court Monitor through a Request for Proposals process:
  • King County ($725,095)
  • Comprehensive Mental Health Services ($956,683)
  • Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization ($857,693)
  • Sunrise Services ($922,755)
  • Kitsap Mental Health Services ($811,212)
Handling the case are ACLU of Washington attorneys Emily Chiang and La Rond Baker; Disability Rights Washington attorneys David Carlson, Emily Cooper, and Anna Guy; and attorneys Christopher Carney, Sean Gillespie, and Kenan Isitt of Carney Gillespie Isitt PLLP.