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Oregon Jail Provides "Sub-Optimal" Mental Health Treatment

Mental health services for prisoners in the Multnomah County, Oregon, jail system are inadequate, a 2015 Corrections Grand Jury found.

Under Oregon law, a Corrections Grand Jury may be impaneled to inspect jail and prison conditions. The Grand Jury then issues a report on its findings.

A Corrections Grand Jury was convened on October 12, 2015 to inspect Multnomah County jail facilities. The jury issued its annual report seven weeks later.

For the second consecutive year, the report found that 43 percent of jail inmates have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Multnomah County jails remain "a sub-optimal system" to treat mental health issues, according to the report.

The panel interviewed 68 witnesses, including prisoners, health care staff, guards, administrators, prosecutors and judges. Almost everyone reported that jails have unintentionally become "the community's main resource to treat mental illness, although the system is not funded or resourced accordingly."

County officials told Grand Jurors that the County should not and cannot solve the community's mental health problems on its own.

Suicide watches have been a key concern of Corrections Grand Jury's since 2011. The 2014 report raised significant concerns about suicide watches costing tax payers $900,000 in guard overtime in fiscal 2014.

The county "reduced the need for suicide watches, which are extremely costly, by adding more mental health staff that can intervene with inmates sooner and more effectively," the 2015 report acknowledged. Yet, the actual numbers for guard overtime were not available to the Grand Jury.

"Sheriff (Dan Staton) will review it and talk with our administrative staff," said

Multnomah County spokesman Lt. Steve Alexender. "We'll go over it, and the sheriff will sit down with the team."

That "sit down" likely never occurred, however, as Multnomah County District Attorney requested that the Oregon Department of Justice launch a criminal investigation into claims of misconduct by Sheriff Staton soon thereafter. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum agreed, and the investigation is underway.

Source: The Oregonian/OregonLive

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