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Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Washington. (Image: Courtesy of Washington State Department of Social and Health Services)

The number of patients being referred to the criminal wards at Washington’s congested psychiatric hospitals has soared in the last year, a trend that has befuddled state officials and prompted them to scramble for answers.

The state’s psychiatric facilities, including Western State Hospital in Lakewood, already have struggled for years to overcome crowding and lengthy wait lists for care. The result has been millions of dollars in fines and court orders to speed up required services for mentally ill defendants.

While in line to get help at the hospitals, patients accused of crimes have been left in local jails, where they can’t get proper treatment.

Yet the new and escalating rise in referrals to criminal, or forensic, wards makes the state’s tall task of shortening hospital wait lists even more difficult, especially with little idea of why it’s happening, said Thomas Kinlen, who oversees services for forensic patients for the state.

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