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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."

After 7 Months In Jail, Washington Man Found Not Competent For Trial

Thomas Hawk
Flickr -

Mentally ill inmates continue to languish in Washington jails despite a recent federal judge’s ruling that the practice is unconstitutional.

One inmate named Bryce -- we’re using just his first name -- has been held in the Spokane County Jail for the last seven months. His father Barry said it’s taken a toll, both mentally and physically.

Barry said his son’s mental condition has deteriorated and that he “has lost 32 pounds.”

Bryce was jailed last September for threatening his parents during a psychotic episode. It took 43 days for the state to evaluate him to see if he was competent to stand trial. Delays like that are common.

Bryce was eventually sent to Eastern State Hospital, but then was bounced back to jail. His father calls it “horrendous.”

“We need to handle this better,” Barry said. “It’s a broken system.”

But now a judge has ruled Bryce not competent to stand trial and dismissed the charges against him. His father Barry is hopeful his son will now get the help he needs.

Bryce’s saga is not over yet. As of Friday, he was still in jail because no psychiatric bed was available.

In April, federal Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle ordered the state of Washington to evaluate mentally ill jail inmates within seven days. The Department of Social and Health Services has said it will need more psychiatrists and more psychiatric beds to reduce the wait times for competency services in Washington jails.

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."