Criminalizing mental illness


Our communities have been hit by an affordable housing crisis. And we’ve failed to invest in community mental healthcare and support services. That’s led to our jails overflowing with people in mental health crisis. Many people are arrested for low-level, public nuisance offenses like trespass.

Criminalizing Mental Illness 

When a person with a mental health condition is arrested for a minor offense, most Oregonians have no idea what happens next.

Many people are shocked when they learn of the staggering human and financial costs that this process triggers.

If I’m charged with a crime and I experience a disability – whether it’s a mental illness, an intellectual and development disability, or a traumatic brain injury – I may not be able to understand the charges against me. When that happens, the case is put on hold and the court may order me to receive treatment at the state psychiatric hospital.

It costs nearly a quarter of a million dollars ($240,000) for just one person to receive treatment at the state psychiatric hospital for a year.

Here’s why this costly process is so futile.

People Struggling to Meet Their Basic Needs

After the psychiatric hospital discharges defendants found unable to aid and assist, people go back to jail and often end up back on the street struggling to meet their basic needs. Many of our clients are discharged without identification. They have no transportation, no housing, and no phone. It’s hard to stay healthy while you’re struggling to buy food, and find a safe place to live.

Smarter Investments in Public Supports

We could spend our public resources smarter, and make our communities stronger, by helping people meet their basic needs. When people can access healthcare where they live it gives them the chance to start to build a life.

District Attorneys can do their part by not charging people in mental health crisis accused of low-level, minor offense. They can redirect them to treatment programs.

What Marion County Did

While all other Oregon counties have seen increases in the number of people who are arrested and sent to the hospital for restoration, the number of people in Marion County who went through that process dropped by 46 percent.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” – Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers

By redirecting our dollars to provide community support, we’ll reach a lot more people.

What You Can Do

The Oregonian spotlighted this problem that we’ve been working on for a long time. The paper shared some of the stories of our clients. This video shares their stories too. Watch the video and share it.

Contact your legislators. Ask them to reform the aid and assist process.

Contact your county elected leaders. Ask them to support programs to divert people from the criminal justice system.

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