Oregon Jails Routinely Flout Order to Hospitalize Mentally Ill

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Individuals with mental health and behavioral issues are a rising population in rural jails. Photo by Chloe Cap for Mental Health Awareness Week., via Flickr

Since January 2018, Oregon officials have failed more than 200 times to get mentally ill people out of jail and into treatment within a court-ordered seven-day window, The Oregonian reports.

The routine delays, some of them lasting more than a month, violate the rights of mentally ill people accused of minor or serious crimes, as judges have ruled they cannot be left to languish in county jails.

The seven-day limit was set by a 2003 federal appeals court ruling that rejected the state’s claims about logistical obstacles in making prompt hospital admissions from jails. The newspaper’s analysis of admissions since January 2018 found that 202 late entries accounted for 29 percent of all admissions for mentally ill defendants.

And of the 202 defendants, 63 had been charged only with misdemeanors. Law enforcement and jail officials blamed the delays on insufficient staffing and lack of hospital beds. The state hospital has been flooded in recent years with mentally ill people ordered there for trial fitness treatment. With the facility beyond its 236-bed capacity for those patients, the defendants wait in jail.

An Oregonian investigation published in January showed how mentally ill homeless people charged with low-level crimes are institutionalized at the state hospital for trial fitness treatment over long periods.

The care is hugely expensive and tends to offer little or no lasting benefits, in part because patients don’t receive transition plans or stepped-down care after they are returned to face charges, the news organization found.

Additional reading: 

Rural Jails and Mental Health: the Hardest Challenge 

The Jail-Health Care Crisis (New Yorker)

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