Washington jails and hospitals now will have a deadline of two weeks to complete mental health evaluations under a bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday.
“Defendants do have the right to understand the proceedings against them and to participate in their own defense,” he said. “We all know we now need to turn to the important task of making sure this bill and these provisions are funded adequately.”
In a class-action lawsuit filed against the state, people charged with crimes say they were forced to wait an unconstitutional amount of time before receiving mental health evaluations for competency to stand trial, sometimes weeks or months.
Hospitals, under Senate Bill 5889, will have 14 days to offer admission to a defendant for inpatient competency evaluations. Jails must also complete evaluations within that time frame, with an option to extend another seven days for clinical reasons.
The new time limit will be phased in throughout a period of one year beginning July 1. If a jail or hospital exceeds a time limit, it will have to submit a report to the Legislature and governor’s office, and the defendant could use the missed deadline as a defense in court.
A shortage of psychiatric beds and staff contributed to the long wait times, mental health officials say. Lawmakers last month passed a supplemental budget with more than $20 million toward the state’s mental health system, including adding 45 beds to the Western State Hospital mental health wards.