Judge: State is violating rights of mentally ill inmates

SEATTLE — A federal judge says long delays for jail inmates who need mental health treatment is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle issued a ruling Monday in a class-action lawsuit challenging the long wait times for treatment at Western State Hospital for inmates who aren’t able to assist in their own criminal defense.

The lawsuit originated with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association, whose lawyers have been battling the issue for more than a year. Disability Rights Washington, a Seattle nonprofit, later took up the case.

Pechman on Monday said the state “has consistently and over a long period of time violated the constitutional rights of the mentally ill.” She added: “This must stop.”

Defendants typically have to wait for at least two weeks, and up to nearly two months, before receiving services. Critics say the conditions of the defendants often get worse during those waits.

The state has conceded that the length of the wait times is indefensible.

The case is expected to move to trial in March to determine a proper remedy, and sort out how long is too long for inmates to wait for treatment.

“What the court made clear today is that what the state is doing is illegal. Judge Pechman wants to hear what the solution is,” said David Carlson with Disability Rights Washington.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss reached a similar conclusion earlier this year in the case of a mentally ill woman accused of throwing a child out a window. She was too sick to assist her lawyer.

She had been held in the Snohomish County Jail for two months, waiting for a bed at Western State Hospital.

The judge eventually freed the woman while she waited to be treated. Other judges around the state have been leveraging fines against the state.

Weiss was reluctant to impose sanctions, saying that he didn’t find that the hospital was acting in bad faith.

He concluded that the issue needed to be decided by the higher courts, instead of the current piecemeal approach.

“This is great news for our clients,” Snohomish County public defender Jason Schwarz said. “I think it’s a good sign that fixing the problem is next.”

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

Everett police officers survey the scene of a shooting along East Casino Road on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington’s 5th police academy could be in Snohomish County

A new academy in Northwest Washington would help clear a lengthy wait list for new police hires to get training.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.