Today, the Senate approved legislation requested by Gov. Jay Inslee that would spur urgent reforms to the state’s competency restoration system.
The issue has attracted attention because surging demand over the past several years has created long delays in defendants’ access to competency services. Many defendants wait in jail, or judges may dismiss the charges or release the defendant to wait in the community. Sometimes the defendant has no plan for housing, care or treatment.
SB 5440, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, does several things to expand pathways to meaningful treatment options, particularly for low-level, misdemeanor offenders.
- Many defendants awaiting inpatient competency services are in jail for misdemeanor charges. SB 5440 creates a diversion program that uses forensic navigators to connect more misdemeanor defendants to diversion programs before a referral for competency services is made. The bill also encourages alternatives such as outpatient competency restoration and civil commitment. This would better allow hospital beds and inpatient services to be used for higher level offenders.
- People with dementia or a developmental or intellectual disability diagnosis are better served outside of the criminal legal system. This bill creates a program to divert these individuals into appropriate care and treatment instead of the criminal justice system.
- The bill includes provisions to better ensure defendants receive proper medication as they move between state facilities and jails. It creates a “clinical intervention specialist” program to help more defendants receive enhanced behavioral health treatment support and oversight from the state while they wait in jail for competency services.