Don’t Make the Mentally Ill Wait in Jail

Jail Cells_By_Derek Key

Target: Patricia Lashway, Acting Secretary, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

Goal: Don’t allow state to house mentally ill defendants in jail.

Due to a backlog of requests for competency evaluations and services for mentally ill defendants, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in Washington State has proposed moving them into a renovated jail in Yakima. This proposal comes after the agency failed to meet a federal judge’s deadline to improve the state’s psychiatric hospitals so that competency evaluations take no longer than seven days to be processed. The failure of the DSHS to meet this deadline is inexcusable and it is ridiculous that the agency is proposing housing these mentally ill defendants in a jail while they wait for much-delayed evaluations.

According to U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, it is a violation of an individual’s constitutional right to due process if a court-ordered competency evaluation is not delivered by the state within seven days. However, many defendants are left waiting for weeks or months to be evaluated or treated and returned to competency. Many of these individuals suffer from serious mental illness and need placement in an institution that will be able to properly meet their needs. Placing the mentally ill in jails is a dangerous situation as individuals are faced with a lack of treatment, a lack of access to medication, and an environment full of increased stress that can lead them to harm themselves or others.

Individuals suffering from severe mental disorders need the help and compassion of society, not additional marginalization and hardship. The recent proposal to keep mentally ill defendants in jail while they wait for competency evaluations is not to be tolerated. Sign the below petition to demand that Washington State DSHS find an alternative to housing the mentally ill in a jail.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Secretary Lashway,

I am writing to request that you please reconsider your proposal to house mentally ill defendants awaiting competency evaluation in the Yakima Competency Restoration Center. This institution is a jail that doesn’t have the necessary precautions and staffing to offer a safe living environment for people suffering from severe mental illness. While I understand your agency is in a tough situation with the backlog of requests for competency evaluations, this proposal is inhumane and should not be carried out.

Judge Marsha Pechman’s decision to require that all competency evaluations be conducted within seven days of a judge’s order was an attempt to decrease the occurrences of mentally ill defendants having to wait in jails. In these institutions, the mentally ill are possible dangers to themselves and others. It is unfortunate that the DSHS has not met Judge Pechman’s deadline for an improved competency evaluation system, but it is even more unfortunate that the agency is now proposing to house waiting defendants in an institution that Judge Pechman was specifically hoping to help these people avoid.

I understand that this is an extremely difficult situation, but placing mentally ill defendants in jail for an undetermined amount of time is not a helpful solution, and only continues to marginalize those who need help. Please ensure that the DSHS doesn’t follow through with this plan to house the mentally ill in an institution that could do them irreparable damage.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Derek Key

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