Counties will be able to outsource mental health evaluations of jail inmates to the private sector if state psychologists aren’t doing them fast enough, under a law signed this afternoon by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Pierce County pushed the proposal, which I wrote about here. The Legislature has set a seven-day standard for mental evaluations of criminal suspects, but as of November and December, more than 80 percent of Western Washington offenders were still waiting for a Western State Hospital evaluation when the week was up. One of the reasons appears to be turnover in WSH staff who leave for often higher-paying jobs.
The new law would let counties contract with psychologists and psychiatrists at state expense, with the county paying anything over the usual cost of a state doctor. Tacoma Sen. Steve Conway sponsored the measure with bipartisan backing and it passed with just one dissenting vote.
Public-sector unions didn’t fight it, although they were leery about allowing more contracting out, saying the real solution is to pay experts more to keep them. The law signed by Inslee is a temporary one, only in effect for three years.
State officials estimate it will cost the state somewhere between $129,600 and $648,000 a year, depending on the backlogs. The House and Senate budgets both included money only for the lower end of that range. If more than 10 percent of all jail evaluations are contracted out, that won’t be enough money.
UPDATED 7:45 p.m. to fix typo on amount