Federal judge scolds Washington state for treatment of mentally ill

SEATTLE — A federal judge blasted the Washington state agency responsible for providing competency services to mentally ill people in jail, saying the agency doesn’t appear to understand that these individuals “have constitutional rights that are being violated.”

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman says the number of people waiting for competency evaluations or treatment has increased since April 2016 instead of going down.

Pechman ordered the state in 2015 to provide timely competency services and found the state in contempt last year. The state has paid $9.6 million in contempt fines.

Pechman issued a list of orders Thursday that the agency must implement immediately. The changes include hiring additional staff to handle evaluations and provide treatment.

In a statement the Department of Social and Health Services said it has made progress providing competency evaluations and is trying to comply with the court order “as quickly as possible.”