The Trueblood vs. Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) lawsuit filed in 2014 challenged unconstitutional delays in competency evaluation and restoration services for people detained in jails. In 2015, a federal court found that DSHS took too long to provide these evaluations and services. As a result, the State was ordered to provide court-ordered competency evaluations within 14 days and competency restoration services within seven days of court orders. In addition to the required state-contracted outpatient competency restoration services, the State is now required to provide outpatient restoration services to Trueblood class members within seven days of a court order.
In December 2018, the court approved a settlement agreement related to contempt findings in this case. The agreement established a plan for providing services to persons involved in the criminal court system and for providing treatment so they would be less likely to become involved in the criminal court system. Implementation of this work began with the passage of SSB 5444 (2019) which authorized the creation of the forensic navigator and outpatient restoration programs, in addition to other programs. Programs and services are being phased in statewide based on regions. However, the implementation of these court-ordered mandates has not gone smoothly.
In fact, the number of individuals waiting for evaluations and services is now greater than when Trueblood was originally filed. Trueblood members are languishing away in jails waiting for evaluations and entrance into competency restoration services at state hospitals.
While this is clearly a State responsibility, the Governor’s office has requested legislation, being offered by Sen. Dhingra (SB 5440), that intentionally shifts this responsibility, and liability, to counties without providing counties funding to accomplish something the State has been unable to address since at least 2018, if not 2015. The proposed legislation does a multitude of things, the most significant and impactful being to shift the responsibility to counties to provide competency evaluations and restoration services in certain cases. To be clear, counties do not currently provide these services, nor do they have appropriate facilities in which to provide these services.
Rather than building out the State’s current system to respond to the Federal Court ruling and settlement, it appears that the State, through the Governor’s proposed legislation, is throwing its hands in the air and directing counties to solve what it could not, yet is obligated, to do per the settlement agreement.
The proposed legislation is not yet scheduled for a hearing, but we anticipate it will be. In the meantime, we have more questions than answers as to how counties could possibly take on this monumental task, without new funding, when the State is unable to do so with access to its vast resources. Keep your eye on this one. It would certainly be wiser to build a collaborative long term wholistic solution to the future of the county jail system, including how competency evaluation and restoration is conducted (one of WSAC’s legislative priorities), than haphazardly making this system change without understanding the connection and ramifications to the entire criminal court and behavioral health system.
WSAC, Policy Director