King Co., Seattle attorneys challenge DSHS over mental health services

Mar 1, 2023, 3:09 PM

mental health...

The King County Correctional Facility is shown Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A lack of mental health beds and services for criminals who were found incompetent to stand trial is one of the main reasons Seattle keeps seeing violent people get out of jail, according to King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion and Seattle City Attorney Anne Davison.

“If someone has been determined to be incompetent to stand trial, they are entitled, under case law, to have their competency restored,” Manion said on The Gee & Ursula Show. “That’s to ensure that they understand the charges brought against them, and that they have the ability to participate in their defense. Competency restoration falls solely on the shoulders of the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS).”

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A KING 5 investigation in 2022 found DSHS racked up potentially $300 million in fines over failing to comply with state law to move defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial into state psychiatric hospitals in a timely manner.

“When DSHS fails to provide timely mental health evaluations and competency treatment, judges face a difficult decision of whether they have to release the individuals charged with a crime, many of whom are still in crisis, or just dismiss the charges outright,” Manion said.

Manion and Davison — who also joined The Gee & Ursula Show to discuss this increasingly dire situation — wrote an op-ed in The Seattle Times together earlier this week.

“It is the state’s responsibility to provide these services,” Davison said. “That is what we’re looking for them to do and I go even so far, as I appreciate that we are talking about it as taxpayer dollars that are having to pay for that, but the piece that is so significant for me is that when I can’t, in good faith, ask for restoration because we know that the state is not going to provide a bed for that at the misdemeanor level.”

Davison launched The High Utilizer Initiative last year in an effort to eradicate repeat offenders by allowing misdemeanor bookings of a limited number of repeat offenders. The program works in tandem with the Seattle Police Department, King County Jail, Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Davison and Manion opened their op-ed with a specific story that occurred in Seattle last year when a 63-year-old nurse was attacked and thrown down a flight of stairs at the International District/Chinatown light rail station by a dangerous repeat offender.

The man was charged with a separate murder charge just hours later.

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“It’s also inhumane that this individual is continuing to decompensate in the jail, and the state is offering zero resources and actually not meeting its obligation,” Manion said on The Gee & Ursula Show.

According to both Manion and Davison, there are approximately 400 individuals who are waiting to be licensed and become mental health providers in Washington, but a backlog of licensing applications has been on hold.

“What is the reason for the backlog?” Gee asked.

“That’s the question of the day, Gee,” Davison responded.

“It would be great if the state were able to maybe bring in some outside resources to help staff those beds at DSHS,” Manion said. “It would be great if the state could provide some resources to provide some services while individuals are in jail. It is definitely not the responsibility of the counties or the cities to restore competency, but to allow people to go untreated is unkind.”

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Eighty people charged with serious felony crimes are currently waiting in the King County Jail for services, as of this reporting, with nine more waiting for admission to inpatient evaluation on the felony level, according to Manion.

“Restoration is a critical component of fair justice and is the Department of Social and Health Services’ (DSHS) legal responsibility,” Davison and Manion wrote in their piece. “Yet, DSHS repeatedly fails to admit incompetent individuals to Western State Hospital for necessary evaluations or services.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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King Co., Seattle attorneys challenge DSHS over mental health services