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Washington pays $100M fine for neglecting mental health services earlier than expected

The court-ordered fine was for failing to provide mental health services to people in jail
The hospital previously known as Cascade Behavioral Health. | WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES
December 12, 2023

Washington late last month paid a $100 million court-ordered fine for failing to provide mental health services to people in jail, even though the state wasn’t required to hand over the money until next year. 

The fine stems from what’s known as the Trueblood case, a years-long legal dispute in which a federal court found the Department of Social and Health Services’ long wait times for mental health treatment and evaluations violated the constitutional rights of people in jail waiting for those services before they can be deemed competent to stand trial. 

In July, U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman ordered the state to pay the roughly $100 million fine for failing to comply with a settlement agreement in the case. The state petitioned to delay the payment until April 2024, a request Pechman granted. The state then paid the fine on Nov. 22.

With the earlier-than-expected deposit, Pechman on Monday ordered a workgroup that will guide how the money is used to reconvene and update its spending plan within 60 days. The money will be directed to programs to assist people covered by the settlement.

The workgroup includes state officials and lawyers for the Trueblood plaintiffs. A previous plan they submitted in October focused heavily on looking for ways to expand affordable housing. Money from the fines can be used for diversion programs to keep people out of situations where they are in jail awaiting the types of services at the center of the case.

The court has fined the state about $400 million so far in the Trueblood case, of which $100 million had been paid at the time of the July ruling. Past fines have gone to counties, nonprofit service providers and a building project on the Western State Hospital campus.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Department of Social and Health Services is required to provide mental health evaluations to people in jail within 14 days and treatment to ensure defendants are competent to stand trial within seven days.

The state has reduced wait times for treatment from 12 to 13 months to less than two months, state officials told the Standard in October. 

State officials also said they’re working hard to find more psychiatric hospital beds. In November, Gov. Jay Inslee touted the state’s purchase of a Tukwila hospital, which is expected to free up at least 100 beds for people waiting for competency restoration services. 

It’s still unclear when the state will be in compliance with the settlement agreement – and how many fines officials will rack up in the meantime.

Washington State Standard editor Bill Lucia contributed to this story. 

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