The state Department of Social and Health Services will seek legislation this session that would allow it to provide some competency rehabilitation services outside of state psychiatric hospitals. The move comes after a federal judge ruled in December that wait times for criminal defendants in jail to be evaluated for competency to stand trial were too long and unconstitutional.
Jane Beyer, Assistant Secretary of Behavior Health and Service Integration at DSHS, told a joint legislative committee on Wednesday that the department acknowledged that some of the wait times were “inappropriate.”
“We do not agree with people waiting in jail as long as they are waiting in jail, and that’s why the governor in his budget had the funding request for additional evaluators and additional forensic beds at state hospitals,” she said.
Inslee’s proposed budget includes $8.8 million to open a new 30-bed forensic ward at Western State Hospital, five beds at Eastern State Hospital and additional staff to address court-ordered competency restoration services.
Currently, restoration services for people found by the court to be incompetent to stand trial are only offered at state psychiatric hospitals. Beyer said DSHS will ask for legislation that would authorize it to offer some of those services in other facilities, possibly modeled after crisis diversion centers in Fife and the Tri-Cities.
“There are individuals who have been charged with a misdemeanor or other low-level, non-violent felony that are willing to take medication,” she said. “I think we can appropriately balance public safety and clinical needs so we can provide competency restoration in places other than state hospitals.”
Otherwise, Beyer said the state will be “confronted with another ward and another ward at the state hospitals” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in the future.
A trial has been scheduled for March 16 in the lawsuit against DSHS, which was brought by disability rights groups and ACLU of Washington.