Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has stated that Washington is in the midst of a mental health crisis and the demand for all forms of mental health services far outweighs the available resources. There is no place where this seems to be more evident then in jails and prisons, which are the largest providers of mental health services in the state and a catch-all for people in crisis.

In 2015, a federal court found that DSHS was taking too long to provide these critically important competency evaluations and restoration services in a case called Trueblood et al v. WA State DSHS. Because of that case, Washington entered into a Settlement Agreement that outlines an array of services to better deliver the right care, at the right time to the right people.

According to data from DSHS, from 2013 to 2019 there was an 87% increase in the number of court orders where people are in jail awaiting inpatient evaluation and competency restoration services. What this means is that each year, thousands of people with disabilities sit for weeks or months in jails, often in solitary confinement with limited or no mental health treatment. Some people spend more time waiting for their evaluation and restoration services than being convicted and sentenced.

While there was a 15% decrease in the number of people awaiting competency evaluation and restoration services in 2020, it still meant that 1,563 people fell through the cracks and were denied their constitutional rights.

As the new Department of Corrections Secretary and former Secretary of DSHS, Cheryl Strange stated, “We have a long way to go in transforming the behavioral health system, and our key to success will be to get services to individuals with behavioral health disorders as early as possible long before involvement with the criminal justice system finds them… How we care for those with behavioral health disorders is a measure of our humanity as a state.”

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