Judge holds mental health agency in contempt, orders fines

SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge has found the Washington state agency that oversees mental health services in contempt for failing to provide timely competency evaluations for people waiting in jails.

Judge Marsha Pechman had ordered the agency to conduct in-jail competency evaluations within two weeks of receiving a court order, but the state has failed to meet that timeline.

To get the Department of Social and Health Services into compliance, Pechman imposed a fine of $750 per day for each day a person waits beyond the two-week period. It jumps to $1,500 a day if the person is still waiting after another week.

DSHS assistant secretary Carla Reyes says they’re disappointed with the ruling and says their efforts to reduce wait times were hampered by increased demand.

Pechman had previously found the agency in contempt for failing to treat people in a timely fashion after they were found incompetent to stand trial.

Fines for that order have topped $30.6 million.