Federal judge rules Washington's warehousing of mentally ill defendants unconstitutional

SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge says Washington state's warehousing of mentally ill defendants in jail before trial is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle issued a ruling Monday in a class-action lawsuit challenging the practice. She said the state "has consistently and over a long period of time violated the constitutional rights of the mentally ill." She added: "This must stop."

At issue is the state's practice of holding mentally ill defendants in jail pending mental health treatment or a determination on whether they're competent to stand trial. Defendants typically have to wait for at least two weeks, and up to nearly two months, before receiving services.

Critics say the conditions of the defendants often get worse during those waits.

The state has conceded that the length of the wait times is indefensible.