Mental health care denied in county prisons

Jan 3, 2023

On Nov. 29, the King County Prosecutor’s Office filed several civil contempt orders against the Department of Social and Health Services for not providing inmates with mental health support. The DSHS is responsible for supporting those with mental illness, yet they’ve failed to transport people from county jails to state psychiatric hospitals. 

The DSHS attributes their failures to challenges in hiring and maintaining mental health professionals, shortages in hospital space and an unexpected demand for psychiatric care. These issues have caused hundreds of mentally ill prisoners to wait months for care, and as these people are left untreated in jail, their condition worsens. 

Lisa Dailey, the executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, said that, for mentally ill prisoners, being jailed for long periods of time makes recovery difficult and could cause irreversible brain damage. Additionally, delaying care for mentally ill prisoners pushes back their trials, infringing upon their constitutional right to a speedy trial. 

County jail officials are frustrated and demanding compensation for the expenses of looking after mentally ill prisoners. They argue that the DSHS has breached a previous class action settlement in 2018, which established a 14-day deadline during which the DSHS is required to evaluate mentally ill prisoners to determine their ability to attend trial. If true, the DSHS would be fined $200 million, which would be used to compensate county jails and the prisoners the state has failed to support.

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