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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Federal Judge: Washington Jail Inmates Must Get Competency Services Within 7 Days

Thomas Hawk
Flickr -

A federal judge in Seattle Thursday ordered the state of Washington to provide mental health evaluations to jail inmates within seven days.

The ruling stems from a class action lawsuit on behalf of inmates who spent weeks or even months waiting to have their competency to stand trial evaluated.

Judge Marsha Pechman is pulling no punches. She said the state has nine months to get the wait times for competency services down to seven days. She’s issued a permanent injunction and says she will appoint a monitor to make sure the state complies with her order.

She said the state of Washington has a long history of violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill jail inmates. And clearly a new state law mandating a maximum 14-day waiting period did not satisfy her.

This ruling will have implications for the Department of Social and Health Services and the state budget, which lawmakers are currently writing.

“We are disappointed in the court’s ruling,” said Jane Beyer, Assistant Secretary at Department of Social and Health Services. "We are consulting with our attorneys and will carefully study its provisions and implications."

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."