Federal Court Injunction
In August 1991, a civil rights lawsuit was filed in federal court alleging violations of the constitutional rights of Special Commitment Center (SCC) residents. In 1994, the Federal District Court for Western Washington entered an order and injunction requiring the SCC to provide the residents with “constitutionally adequate mental health treatment.” Beginning in 1995, the court has held annual or semiannual hearings on the state’s progress toward meeting the court’s requirements. Following the November 1999 hearing, the federal court ordered that a contempt penalty of $50 per day per resident accrue, but deferred the state’s payment of the penalties because many improvements had been made within the SCC program. The court also found that the lack of less restrictive alternative housing options was a significant issue and ordered the state to “[make] arrangements … for the community transition of qualified residents, under supervision, when they are ready for a less restrictive alternative.”
Following the July 2001 and February 2002 hearings, the court found that the state’s enactment of legislation establishing the McNeil Island Secure Community Transition Facility (SCTF) and providing a process for siting additional facilities on the mainland was a significant positive step. After the December 2002 hearing, the court continued the accrual of the contempt sanctions until the state had successfully established a Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA) facility off McNeil Island and otherwise complied with the requirements of the injunction.
In October 2003 the Department entered into a long-term lease for a building in the Seattle area for the establishment of an SCTF. After the necessary design and permitting process with the City of Seattle during 2004, that property was remodeled and was ready for occupancy in September 2005. The first resident was placed at the SCTF in Seattle on a court-ordered LRA in February 2006.
The federal district court in June 2004 found that the State of Washington was no longer in contempt of court and that the accrued sanctions did not need to be paid. In March 2007, the federal district court dismissed the injunction and closed the case.