Report: jails spend millions to house mentally ill

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SEATTLE (AP) — Holding mentally ill defendants in jails while they await competency services is costing cities and counties across the state of Washington millions of dollars, state officials say.

Over a six-month period ending in February, jails spent $1.7 million to house defendants waiting for competency evaluations, according to data collected by the state's Behavioral Health Administration, a division of the Department of Social and Health Services.

In addition, the cost of jailing defendants waiting for treatment to restore their competency totaled $1.4 million, the report said.

It's been a year since U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said Washington state was violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill people charged with crimes by forcing them to wait in jails for weeks or months for competency services. She ordered the state to fix its system so the services happen within seven days of a judge's order.

She gave the state a January deadline and then extended it to allow the agency to deal with problems it's facing at its largest psychiatric hospital.

In the interim, Pechman set benchmarks for the state to hit.

The report reveals how far out of compliance the state continues to be and what that's costing county jails.

The daily bed costs for county and municipal jails vary widely across the state, said Carla Reyes, assistant secretary of the agency that submitted the report. They use a rate of $96.13 per day and multiplied it by the number of days beyond the first week that the defendants are waiting to reach a total, the report said.

In February alone, jails spent $116,894 to house defendants waiting for competency evaluations that were to be conducted in the jail. They spent an additional $46,046 on people waiting to be moved to hospitals for inpatient evaluations.

Reyes argued that 50 percent of the people who receive evaluations are found competent to stand trial, so any time beyond the seven-day period spent in jail should not be counted. That would put the in-jail evaluation cost at $58,447 instead of $116,894, she said.

Chris Carney, one of the lawyers who filed the federal lawsuit, said he questions that rational and said the 50 percent figure is only an estimate.

The team of lawyers with Disability Rights Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union planned to meet Tuesday to decide how to respond to the state's report, Carney said.


Follow Martha Bellisle at

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