Over the past six years, Oregon has sent at least 1,486 people with mental illness accused of misdemeanors to spend months at the state hospital to ready them for court in a “deeply broken” system that is wasteful and unjust, The Oregonian reports.
Deemed incompetent to assist in their defense, people charged with minor offenses can languish in the hospital far longer than any jail sentence they might have served, and at hospitalization costs far greater than they might get at a small, secure residential facility offering better one-on-one treatment, the newspaper found.
Bob Joondeph, director of the advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon, said, “This is an issue that’s been around for many years now. All the players know about it.” But “enormous institutional inertia” has stopped attempts at reform, he said.
Peter Courtney, president of the state Senate and a longtime mental health care reformer, said he has had trouble convincing the Legislature to vote for bigger mental health budgets.
“Everybody cares about mental health. Every state senator and state representative does,” Courtney said. “The problem is when it comes to prioritization of funds, everybody wants to do something about mental health but just not today.”