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Crime, Law and Justice
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."

Report: Washington Jail Competency Delays Getting Worse, Not Better

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Thomas Hawk
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It’s a new year, but the saga continues. The state of Washington has missed a deadline to provide competency services to jail inmates within seven days. And in some cases wait times are getting worse not better.

That’s according to a report issued January 7 by a court monitor.

Mentally ill inmates languish in Washington jails while awaiting an evaluation to see if they’re competent to stand trial. For those found not competent, there’s often another long wait for a bed at one of the state’s two psychiatric hospitals.

The court monitor’s report cites some improvements: more staff hired, more psychiatric beds coming on-line. But still the long waits persist -- especially in eastern Washington. There the average wait time for hospital admission is now 94 days, a dramatic increase since a year ago.

The state missed a January 2 deadline to provide these services within seven days and is nowhere close to meeting that standard. It’s now asking the court for a delay to May.

Plaintiffs in the case say the delays have “dire consequences” and note two jail inmates died last year while awaiting competency services. One of those inmates died in April of dehydration at the Island County Jail shortly after being found not competent. The second inmate died in November of a heart condition in the Skagit County Jail after waiting three months for a competency services.