- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - A federal judge ordered the partial shutdown of a new treatment facility for mentally ill defendants in Yakima after learning that the renovated jail poses a safety risk.

Lawyers for the defendants had sought a restraining order to stop the Department of Social and Health Services from sending mentally ill defendants to the Yakima Residential Treatment Facility to have their competency restored. They argued that a former jail was not an appropriate setting for treating the mentally ill, and said the facility hadn’t been properly renovated to ensure that patients would not harm themselves or others.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman agreed in part and on Friday. She granted a modified restraining order against the state, saying the defendants were at risk of irreparable harm by staying in the upper floor of the newly opened center.

Pechman’s order focused on two critical issues, said Emily Cooper, a lawyer with Disability Rights Washington. Pechman said the stairway poses a risk for jumping or hanging and needs to be fixed. She also said the state needs to modify the seclusion and restraint room before any new defendants are sent there, Cooper said.

The state must close the top floor until the problems are fixed, Cooper said Monday.

“It is unfortunate that the plaintiffs were forced again to seek judicial relief due to DSHS’ failure to protect class members,” Cooper told The Associated Press in an email. “We look forward to when DSHS will step up and exemplify the leadership necessary to implement a safe and effective solution to the delays in competency services.”

The restraining order comes after a high-profile escape last week at the state’s largest mental hospital.

On Saturday, department officials said security is being enhanced at state psychiatric hospitals after a man accused of torturing a 20-year-old woman to death escaped from the Western State Hospital with another patient. Both have been recaptured. The men were at the Lakewood hospital under court commitment after being found too mentally ill to understand their criminal charges.

The state opened the Yakima center in March in an effort satisfy a previous order that requires it to provide competency treatment services within seven days of a judge’s order.

Pechman made that order last year after finding that the state was violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill defendants who were forced to wait in jails for weeks or months before getting a competency evaluation or restoration treatment.

Kathy Spears, a spokeswoman for the state agency and the private group running the center, Comprehensive Mental Health, said they have already begun to make changes to satisfy the judge’s concerns.

“No patients will be served on the second tier until the court’s concerns about the stairwell are addressed,” Spears said. “The seclusion and restraint room will not be used until the concerns with a ventilation grate are addressed.”

The state agency planned to meet with the court-appointed monitor on Monday to clarify any long-term solutions and address concerns so that the facility can again be used for competency services, she said.


Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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