About 35 people attended a public meeting at Maple Lane School in Grand Mound last week to learn about the state’s plan to temporarily reopen the facility to serve adult suspects with mental illness.
Representatives from the state Department of Social and Health Services and other agencies each discussed what is prompting DSHS to expand its services and how Maple Lane, a former juvenile detention center, fits into that picture. The meeting was just one step in a lengthy permitting process needed to change the building’s use.
Representatives said the department doesn’t have enough space to house people who have been accused of committing a crime but aren’t competent to stand trial. Maple Lane is one of the facilities DSHS is considering using to address the issue.
DSHS officials say there is a shortage of about 120 forensic beds around the state, and Maple Lane could provide 30 of those. It is high on the list of facilities being considered because it’s in good condition and close to Interstate 5 and Western State Hospital in Lakewood, the state’s largest mental hospital.
The move comes in the wake of the Trueblood v. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services verdict, a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of mentally ill inmates who were being warehoused in county jails while waiting to be moved to Western State. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman ruled that inmates must be moved from county jails within seven days of a judge’s order. As part of the response, the Legislature allocated up to $600,000 to the DSHS to spend on renovations at Maple Lane so it can house people while they are treated for mental illness so they can understand court proceedings and assist their attorney in their defense.
Currently the state has forensic beds in two facilities: Eastern State Hospital has 287 inpatient psychiatric beds 20 miles west of Spokane. Western State Hospital has about 700 psychiatric beds.
DSHS also considered Rainier School in Buckley, Fircrest School in Shoreline, and Lakeland Village near Spokane, but Maple Lane was the best fit.
A large percentage of the people at last week’s hearing were employees of mental health providers or other state agencies with a vested interest in the move to reopen Maple Lane.
Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund was among the attendees. She said she supports reopening Maple Lane because of the jobs it could bring to the area..
Erin Mulka, a Rochester resident who lives near the facility, said she also supports reopening the school.
“I thinks it’s an excellent opportunity for all parties involved,” she said. “The presentation was encouraging. It seems like they thought about their options.”
The state is about halfway through a 90-day comment period required as part of the special use permit application process that must be completed before Maple Lane can be opened to adult inmates.
If approved, Maple Lane will likely be used by DSHS for two to five years. The Department of Corrections also is considering renovating the school into a 700-bed adult correctional facility for inmates with mental health issues.
In the operating budget, the Legislature directed the DOC to review the policies that determine custody levels and evaluate the options, cost and timing of any proposal to build a new prison. The DOC is required to report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 1
The school previously housed juvenile offenders, but it was closed in 2011 as part of a sweeping round of statewide budget cuts. Before closing, it employed about 260 people and housed about 200 juvenile offenders with mental illnesses or addictions.