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Washington State has been found in contempt by a federal judge and has been ordered to pay fines exceeding $100 million for its failure to provide timely psychiatric services to mentally ill individuals who are forced to endure long stays in jails.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman released an order stating that the Washington Department of Social and Health Services has been violating the constitutional rights of these individuals since 2015 due to its lack of preparedness and slow response to a crisis of its own making. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of people with mental health disabilities who faced criminal charges and were mandated by a judge to undergo competency evaluations. If deemed incompetent to stand trial, the state is required to offer services to restore their competency.

The lawsuit alleged that a dearth of funding, personnel, and mental health facility beds resulted in extended jail stays, infringing upon their rights. In 2018, the state entered into a settlement agreement, promising to address the wait times; however, the situation has only worsened, according to Pechman. Rather than expanding psychiatric hospitals, the state opted to close wards.

Christopher Carney, representing Disability Rights Washington, argued against prosecuting vulnerable individuals and advocated for using the funds for supportive housing, staffing, and medication.

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