Mental Health Association of Portland

Despite advocates’ objections, city forges ahead to hire fast, announcing three final COCL candidates

Posted by Jenny on 11th September 2014

The Skanner, Sept. 10, 2014

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese

The City of Portland has announced three finalists for the position of Compliance Officer/Community Liaison to monitor the civil rights settlement between the city and the Department of Justice. Judge Michael Simon approved the settlement Aug. 29, with the requirement that the Compliance officer make an annual report to the court.

The city also released a list of community organizations who will advise on the hiring process. On that list are:

Katelyn Randall representing Community Mental Health;  Lee Po Cha of  IRCO;  Patricia TenEyck of  NAMI Multnomah;  Dr. Maggie Bennington-Davis of Cascadia Behavioral Health;  Michael Alexander of the Urban League of Portland;  Kris Moore of FOLKTIME; Leslie Foren of Elders In Action; Bob Joondeph of Disability Rights Oregon; Philip Wolfe of the Portland Commission on Disabilities; Dr. LeRoy Haynes, Jr. of the AMA Coalition for Justice and Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland.

But Renaud says he won’t be taking part unless the city finds better candidates. “In a hiring process like this, for a job paying close to a quarter of a million dollars, you should expect to get 200 candidates not 12,” Renaud says.  Renaud says the city didn’t advertise the position sufficiently.

“They need to write a letter to the judge and say they didn’t do a good job. It’s not the community’s mistake, although the community is  paying for this, and we don’t need to rubber stamp a bad hire because time is running out.”  Read Jason Renaud’s commentary here.

Here’s the press release issued by Commissioner Amanda Fritz‘s office:

The City of Portland is moving forward with the latest requirement of a police-reform agreement crafted with the U.S. Department of Justice: hiring a Compliance Officer/Community Liaison to oversee the City’s compliance with those reforms.

On Aug. 29, Federal Judge Michael Simon approved the settlement between the DOJ and the city.

The three candidates are:

John Campbell of Campbell DeLong Resources Inc., a Portland firm that has provided research, training, facilitation, and planning for the purpose of public safety problem-solving, community-oriented policing, and the goal of more effective law enforcement results since 1989.

Dennis Rosenbaum of Chicago, executive director of the National Police Research Platform, which oversees a seven-university research program in more than 100 U.S. cities, funded by the National Institute of Justice, Department of Justice, to advance the current state of knowledge and practice in American law enforcement.

Daniel Ward of Portland, executive director of the Oregon Drug and Alcohol Policy Commission and a former CEO (2009-12) of  Metro Crisis Services Inc. in Colorado

“We are pleased to continue moving forward with the letter and spirit of the Department of Justice settlement, through the process of hiring the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison,” Mayor Charlie Hales said. “Since the request for proposals became public in January, these candidates have shown great patience as we have worked through the process. This is a major step forward in the city’s commitment to the settlement.”

“I encourage all Portlanders to engage in this process, first to advise on selection of the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison and then in the crucial work of making Portland a safer place for people experiencing mental illnesses,” said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, a retired psychiatric nurse.  “The Settlement Agreement clearly assigns responsibility and accountability for police actions to all five Council members.  I am eager to do my part to ensure equitable treatment of every citizen, with respect for all.”

Twelve people initially applied for the position in January. Assessment of the applications has been coordinated by Joe Wahl, Deputy Director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, in partnership with Commissioner Fritz and a planning committee of City staff and community members. Panels of reviewers – including community members with experience in mental health care services, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, and city staff – chose the three candidates to be interviewed.

The DOJ settlement requires the City to identify a list of three potential candidates for public review, from which the City Council will select one.

The candidates will be interviewed on Monday, Sept. 29. Community members are welcome to observe. (See attached schedule.) The initial presentations by the candidates will be broadcast on Channel 30 via Portland Community Media, and the video posted on the City’s website. With input from the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition and advocates for people experiencing mental illness, an advisory group has been created to help work through the selection process for hiring the COCL. (See attached list of advisory group members.)

The City Council also will interview the candidates, in addition to the community process.  The City Auditor, Portland’s sixth elected official, was invited to participate in these interviews but declined.

“While I appreciate the invitation to participate in the interview of the three COCL candidates, I must recuse myself from that process,” said Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade.  “The person hired in this position will be responsible for evaluating a number of aspects of the City’s compliance with the DOJ agreement, including the work of the Independent Police Review (IPR) division in my office.  My participation in the selection process would create a serious and inappropriate conflict for my role as City Auditor and as the elected official charged with oversight of IPR.”

Following the interviews on Sept. 29, the DOJ Settlement requires a 30-day public comment period for community advice to the Council on which candidate should be selected. Public input will be welcome through Oct. 29. An email address and phone number for comments will be announced on Sept. 29.

The Council is expected to enter into contract negotiations later this fall.

After the hiring of the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison, the next step is the creation of a Community Oversight Advisory Board, or COAB, to work with the COCL on assessing whether the Police Bureau and the City are meeting the terms of the DOJ agreement.

“I want to thank Commissioner Fritz and the advisory group for their work,” Hales said. “As a Portlander, and as Police Commissioner, I take these issues seriously, and so does the community. Hiring the compliance officer is a major step forward for the City Council. I look forward to having the officer’s independent assessment of the positive changes already made as well as advice about how to implement the remaining tasks.”

Below is the schedule the city released for Sept. 29’s forum.  Download a description of the interview process, time limits, and other details (PDF, 46KB)

9 a.m. – 10:25 a.m. Applicant presentations in Portland Building Auditorium or City Council chambers. Each 25 minutes with 5 minute break in between.

9:00 a.m – 9:25 a.m. 1st presentation

9:25 a.m – 9:30 a.m. 1st break

9:30 a.m. – 9:55 a.m. 2nd presentation

9:55 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. 2nd break

10:00 a.m.– 10:25 a.m. 3rd presentation

10:25 a.m. – 10:35 a.m. Break, then candidates and Advisory Committee members go to first panel interviews (10 min)

10:35 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. First small-group interview sessions (40 min)

11:15 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. Break, snacks, candidates rotate (20 min)

11:35 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Second small-group interview sessions (40 min)

12:15 p.m. – 12:25 p.m.   Break, candidates rotate (10 min)

12:25 p.m. – 1:05 p.m. Third small-group interview sessions (40 min)

1:05 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.   Break, lunch provided for Advisory Committee (40 min)

1:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Advisory Committee discussion, recommendation to Council on whether to forward all three applicants for public review and 30-day comment period. Public meeting, audience may observe, no public comment at this time. (2 hours)

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Oregon Courts Double the Number of Suspects Sent to State Mental Hospital

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 9th September 2014

From Go Local PDX, September 09, 2014

Eds. Note – the URL to the Go Local PDX web site hosting the article below sets off security bells and whistles from Firefox and Chrome browsers. Proceed with caution.

The number of criminal suspects in Oregon deemed unfit to stand trial and then sent to the state mental hospital has almost doubled in the last four years and it’s costing the state millions.

Under Oregon law, if someone accused of a crime is unable to participate in their own legal defense because of a mental illness, they are sent to either a mental health facility in their own community or to the Oregon State Hospital, where they then receive treatment until they are fit for trial.

Increasingly, judges are using the latter option.

Between January 2010 and April 2014, the number of suspects sent to the Oregon State Hospital jumped from 88 to 151, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

“It’s not good practice. There’s really no evidence that that benefits people,” said Jason Renaud, spokesperson for the Mental Health Association of Portland.

Renaud said that many patients are sent to the state hospital for fairly innocuous infractions, such as shoplifting.

Almost half of all “aid and assist” patients, as they are called, are sent to the state mental hospital for misdemeanor and infractions, according to the healthy authority.
Cost run high

That comes at a high cost: $678.44 a day for an aid and assist patient to stay in the Oregon State Hospital. They make up about 20 percent of the population.

In 2013, aid and assist patients stayed a statistical mean of 71 days, costing the state roughly $48,000 a piece.

“Sending people to the state hospital is the most expensive option available, except for maybe the emergency room,” Renaud said.

State courts overwhelmed

Judge Julie Frantz oversees most of the aid and assistant felony cases that go through Multnomah County Circuit Court.

She said she can’t speak to courtrooms in other counties, but that in Multnomah County the mental health system is overwhelmed.

At the local level there is an enormous lack of services and support for people with mental illness, Frantz said, adding that too many people are walking a thin line that can be easy to fall off.

“There’s no funding for medication, for treatment, 24-hour clinics, housing,” Frantz said. “If someone is suffering from mental illness, then they lose their job, they might snap [and commit a crime.]”

But once they are in front of her, the defendant has to make a decision, whether to plead guilty, plead no contest or go to trial. If they can’t make that decision for themselves, and they pose a potential threat to the public, she has to do something with them.

At that point, she said, there are very few options left for them.

“County jails aren’t equipped to be mental clinics,” Frantz said. “The only alternative we have left is to send people to the state hospital.”

State slow on meeting goals

The state of Oregon had planned to move away from its reliance on the state mental hospital system.

Renaud [and Frantz] both point to a U.S. Department of Justice report that stated Oregon’s efforts to shift its mental health services towards smaller community-based care facilities has fallen flat.

“The data we have reviewed clearly shows that Oregon’s community services have not begun to expand,” reads the report. “That has led to a predictable result – Oregon is not yet transitioning to a community-based system.

“The State’s data reveals that funding for mental health services is not yet shifting away from costly restrictive institutional settings to more effective, less costly community settings.”

Frantz agrees that smaller more intimate care facilities would be less costly and would provide more support for defendants, but not enough of those facilities exist.

Marion County, which is home to the Oregon State Hospital, has taken a proactive approach to providing more community-based mental health services to people with an aid and assist status, said Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon.

Scott Richards, behavioral health division director for the Marion County Health Department, said state funding has allowed his agency to hire a clinician to treat some patients in a community-based setting.

That approach is cheaper than the state hospital and has another benefit, he said.

“I also think … that it makes more sense to not remove someone from the community they are going to live in if they don’t need to be,” he said.

Frantz pointed to places like Bexar County, Texas, as a place that was leading the nation in community-based care.

That said, the state of Oregon has already said it wants to move towards a more efficient and supportive system. It just hasn’t gotten there.

“The legislation passed,” Frantz said. “But it doesn’t appear the funding followed.”

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

City moves quickly to hire settlement monitor – maybe too quickly

Posted by Jenny on 1st September 2014

Charlie Hales looking a bit troubled

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales

The Portland Mercury, August 29, 2014

Among the many newly firm deadlines looming over the city’s finally approved package of police reforms with the US Department of Justice: the need to hire someone credible and qualified to monitor the deal—an independent compliance officer/community liaison (COCL)—within the next 90 days.

That might sound ambitious. But thanks to all the time bought by all the months of legal wrangling leading up to today’s ruling, city officials say they’re hoping they’ll hit that mark.

The city, as the Mercury reported in June, is now several months into an occasionally contentious hiring process—choosing not to wait for [Judge Michael] Simon’s blessing to bring the COCL on board. And as soon as next week, officials say, the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights is expected to announce it’s already down to three finalists whose names will be aired in a public meeting by a special city selection committee.

That’s a major step, coming after some tension between mental health advocates and those who were hoping the COCL would also focus on racial justice issues. It’s also coming earlier than expected, in part because fewer qualified candidates applied than expected, despite outreach by groups like the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.

Originally, the city had hoped to send more candidates to its selection committee, with that committee picking three finalists who would be sent on to interview with Portland’s elected officials. But because so few candidates applied, about a dozen, the city’s early screening panels managed to do that winnowing.

“We all are somewhat disappointed there aren’t more viable candidates,” says Commissioner Amanda Fritz, helping lead the hiring process on behalf of Mayor Charlie Hales‘ office. “But we’re all happy there are three.”

That’s not to say another hiccup couldn’t emerge. Fritz, who says officials have not yet finalized the selection committee’s roster of about 20, allowed that the committee could still rule out one or more of the remaining candidates. And without three names sent on for city commissioners and the city auditor to review, building to a public comment process, the application process would have to start over again.

One advocate who’s been minding the process, Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, says he remains disappointed in the caliber of candidates and is still hoping to see more substantial names like former Governor Ted Kulongoski or Paul DeMuniz, former chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.

“We’re going to regret going with persons who are inexperienced or unfamiliar with our issues,” he says. “If the advisory group can say, ‘No, these people are not sufficient,’ then we can shift gears and go out and recruit and repost this position.”

But other favored candidates, who’d been part of this process since January, might decide to drop out, Fritz warns. She’s hoping momentum will be maintained.

“We’re anticipating they will be” sent along, Fritz says. “But that is something that makes us all very nervous. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Still waiting for someone to take the lead on mental health in Portland

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 24th June 2014

From Steve Duin of The Oregonian, June 24, 2014

I had my come-to-Jason moment in April, right after Jim Francesconi threatened to make mental health a critical issue in his campaign for Multnomah County chair.  Ten minutes with Jason Renaud convinced me Francesconi knew jack about the problem.

The rest of the hour was taken up by how stupidly little I did.

Renaud, on the board of the Mental Health Association of Portland, wasn’t surprised: “The only people intrinsically interested in mental-health issues are sick themselves, and trying to sort it out with God; have family members with mental illness; or view it as a civil-rights issue.

“If you’re not in one of those three categories,” Renaud says, “you distance yourself.”

You have good company in Portland: local political leaders.  The Multnomah County chair, Renaud argues, “is the most important person in the mental-health business.  The way the county commission is set up, the chair has all the power, and they manage the biggest health-care provider in the state, other than the penitentiary.

“What they do, others would follow, if they will only lead.  We’ve never had a county chair who took this seriously.”  Diane LinnJeff CogenTed Wheeler, now serving as state treasurer?  “Ted took this seriously when he was pinned down,” Renaud says, “but that’s how he did everything.”

That cautious detachment is understandable. Few of those ravaged by addiction and mental illness vote; fewer make campaign contributions.  Beyond the length of the line at the Portland Rescue Mission, success is hard to measure.

“It takes a graduate-school education to know how to get around (the system),” Renaud says.  “The people who can who aren’t crazy themselves are rare.”

Renaud is a recovering alcoholic, and painfully blunt.  He has seen mental illness take a tool on his family members.  He produced “Alien Boy,” the documentary on the life and 2006 death of James Chasse, and has written critically of the role of Portland police — “viciousness and thuggery” — in that death.

But in the aftermath of the June 12 death of Nick Davis, shot by Portland cops on the Springwater Corridor when Davis confronted them with a crowbar, Renaud sounds a different tone.

“In a mental-health crisis, if police are involved, a lot of other opportunities to intervene have gone by,” Renaud says.  “(Davis) had been in crisis for years, and left to his own devices.  He didn’t get well.  He didn’t become a good citizen.  Where’s the outreach worker walking up and down the Springwater Corridor, asking, ‘How can we get you out of this situation?’ That may start with some dry socks.”

Renaud credits the cops with some soul-searching in the wake of James Chasse and the Department of Justice inquiry: “(Police Chief) Mike Reese is a big part of that.”

And he believes Deborah Kafoury, the new Multnomah County chair, has the instincts and background to focus on the crisis, once she properly frames the issue.

“Her agenda is homelessness,” Renaud says, “which is a euphemism for untreated addiction and untreated mental illness by developers who want to line their pockets.”

Too many homeless advocates, he argues, would rather talk about poverty and social justice than mental illness: “Their solution is to build apartments, which just gets the problem off the streets.  That’s what the Chamber of Commerce wants, but at this point in the 21st century, that’s not sufficient.”

What is sufficient? A long-overdue audit of mental health and addiction services. An agency geared to accommodate the irrational, inconvenient needs of the patients, not the limited attention span (9 a.m – 5 p.m., weekdays only) of the staff.

A fresh focus on how public-health services are delivered at the jail: “Almost everyone who is arrested is drunk, loaded or mentally ill,” Renaud says.  And as long as they’re in custody …

A system run by professional administrators rather than the psychologists and social workers who lack business experience.  A permanently unlocked door at Hooper Detox. The occasional outreach along the Springwater Corridor and the other urban campsites.

And a county chair who refuses to blink: “If the chair says we need to do better, that we can’t put this off generation after generation, it may get repaired.”

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Gun owners with mental illness need a storage plan

Posted by Jenny on 21st June 2014

By Jason Renaud, The Skanner, June 20, 2014

shotgunMany legal gun owners with mental illness may not store their guns safely, and for some, there are times when secure storage outside of the home is required.

What to do with a gun when your home is not safe?  What to do with a gun when YOU are not safe?

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 26.2 percent of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness – that’s over 82 million people. And, like it or not, the vast majority of people with mental illness have the constitutional right to own a gun.

Only a few Americans are prohibited from gun ownership. They include those who have been involuntarily committed or have been judged “guilty but insane” of a crime – a small percentage of the total.

Tens of millions of others have the same right as you do to own a firearm, and certainly some among them will exercise that right.

Look at it another way: according to the General Social Survey, 34 percent of Americans already own a gun, or 106.7 million.  We could estimate that 26.2 percent of them – just short of 28 million – will also have a diagnosable mental illness.

That’s more than the population of Texas.

The vast majority of gun owners with mental illness are responsible, never commit a crime, and take gun security seriously.

That’s why gun owners with mental illness need a gun storage plan – because they’re responsible, law-abiding and serious. But they also know there may be times in their life where gun violence is a risk – mainly to themselves – and it’s unsafe to have a firearm accessible.

Local gun shops advised me there is no private gun storage business in the area. General storage companies rent storage space by the month, but those same weapons experts wouldn’t store their guns in a rental storage unit: it’s not sufficiently secure, or sufficiently insured, for firearms.

When asked how to store a gun, the experts had two pieces of advice. The first was adult Americans should be armed at all times. The second was if you can’t keep a gun safe, you should sell it. Both are extreme and impractical solutions.

If you’re a gun owner who’s entering a period of crisis and needs safe storage for your weapons, here are some solutions you can reasonably and practically accomplish.

For a single pistol, any quality gun shop can sell you a two-lock pistol safe. It looks like a small tool case and has both a combination lock and a key lock. Cost is about $160. Double lock your pistol in the case and give the key to a trusted friend or family member for the duration. Talk with them clearly and frankly about when to return the key – and when not to return the key.

Here’s another thing you can do.

Call your local police bureau’s non-emergency number and ask for an officer to come by your home and take your gun into secure storage. The service is free, available for as many weapons as you want stored, for up to 90 days. The officer who comes by can give you the details, and will provide you with case number and inventory receipt to retrieve your property.

Finally, here’s some advice for contacting the police.

Call ahead and tell them you have a weapon you would like taken into inventory.  There’s no need to tell officers on the phone or when they arrive about mental illness or drug or alcohol use. That is not required – or expected. Keep it simple. The dispatcher may ask you what clinic you go to or what medicines you take. Just decline to answer.

When officers arrive at your home, leave your weapon in the house, keep the door open, and come outside to meet them. Show your hands at all times. Show the officers your identification. Follow the officer’s instructions. For their safety and yours, officers may ask you to sit or lie down on the ground while they secure the weapon.

Keep cool, keep calm. And have a plan for that gun.

Jason Renaud is a longtime mental health advocate with the Mental Health Association of Portland.

Tags: ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Portland Police Reform and a Pair of Missed Milestones

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 5th June 2014

From the Portland Mercury, June 4, 2014

By now, based on the wishful thinking of the past few months, Portland City Hall ought to have marked a pair of major and incredibly consequential police reform milestones.

Amanda Fritz

Amanda Fritz

A much-contested reform deal between the city, the Portland Police Association, and the US Department of Justice—calling for new training, tighter use-of-force policies, and speedier misconduct investigations—seemed destined to receive US District Court Judge Michael Simon’s approving signature back in April.

READ – DOJ v. City of Portland Settlement Agreement

Which is about when the city had aimed to start vetting some of the (hopefully) highly accomplished applicants vying to do the difficult work of overseeing those reforms. The posting for the position—officially billed as a “compliance officer/community liaison” (COCL)—optimistically placed the job’s “anticipated start date” as sometime this month.

But actually, so far (and maybe unsurprisingly), neither of those things has been checked off the city’s list. As a result, one of the most important promises of federal police reform—real civilian oversight—remains unfulfilled and in a troubling state of limbo.

Simon was all set to approve the reform deal this spring, provided he got his way on one seemingly small point: the right to compel annual updates on the reforms in his courtroom.

But instead of cheerily saying yes, the city and its rank-and-file police union have refused Simon’s request. And, despite the weeks he gave them to bargain over a plausible alternative, they’ve been unable to strike a deal. Now Simon will decide next month whether to hold his nose and accept the deal anyway—or cast the whole thing down.

But that’s still better than the slow-going selection process for the COCL post. Despite plans to air three finalists way back in April, the city is still combing through applicants and doesn’t appear remotely close to reaching a list that small.

READ – job posting for Portland’s COCL position

Sources say modest tensions, kept very quiet, have arisen between police accountability advocates.

Though the police reform deal emphasizes improving police treatment of Portlanders with mental illness, mental health advocates, so far, say the hiring process has favored advocates more interested in addressing racial profiling. Those complaints have convinced Commissioner Amanda Fritz to lengthen the vetting process.

“We’ve not had mental health communities at the table,” Fritz says. “We’re not going forward until they are.”

But maybe worse, sources say, is the caliber of the current applicants. They point to cities like Seattle, which hired a nationally respected police consultant to oversee its reform process, and they ruefully note that no one similarly decorated has applied in Portland. Sources also say the pool tilts more toward experience with racial issues than mental health.

Twelve résumés have been pulled for further screening. Fritz says she’s confident the city will cull that list down to three, and then one.

Mental health advocates appreciate Fritz’s efforts.

“Amanda is trying to find an easier path to make this work,” says Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland.

But those advocates aren’t so sure it will work—they’re worried it’s going to be too little, too late.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Juliet Follansbee points to progress at PSRB, with more than ever living in community, but others sound cautious note

Posted by Jenny on 12th April 2014

Street Roots, April 12, 2014

oregon-state-hospital04On the desk in Juliet Follansbee’s downtown Portland office is a thick book of Oregon laws. It contains only a few sentences that grant the state agency she operates tremendous power over the lives of hundreds of Oregonians.

In May, Follansbee was made interim executive director of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, a position she was permanently appointed to in November. Created by Oregon lawmakers in 1977, the 10-member interdisciplinary board has authority over individuals who have successfully asserted the “guilty except for insanity” defense, meaning they’ve committed a crime, but because of a mental illness or developmental disability did not fully understand what they were doing at the time.

Follansbee takes the reins of the PSRB at a time when the state has aspired to shift its mental health system to more community-based rather than institutional settings. Follansbee says that the PSRB has more resources to place people in community settings than ever before. Mental health advocates are also hoping that Follansbee will set a new tone for the PSRB, which some say was marked by a climate of fear and intimidation fostered by her predecessor.

Follansbee says she’s open to changing the PSRB’s processes and operations. She also wants to help standardize training and foster a collaborative approach with community health care providers. She says she wants the PSRB to accommodate change, the biggest of which is the increase in resources to treat clients in community settings.

“We (serve) just a small portion of the people who receive community mental health services,” says Follansbee.

Being placed under the PSRB, says Follansbee, who previously ran a program that restored the gun rights of Oregonians whose mental health had prevented them from owning firearms, is different from a civil commitment, where someone is involuntarily placed in a mental health setting. “This is something that our clients have chosen to do because they thought that they would do better in a mental health setting,” she says.

However, those who successfully assert the insanity defense grant the PSRB sweeping control over their lives. Depending on the severity of the crime committed, the PSRB (in consultation with community-based mental health providers) determines the settings clients are released into along with what sort of treatment and supervision they receive. Some clients living in more independent settings may have to check in twice a day with mental health workers. If someone is placed under the purview of the PSRB, odds are it will have authority over them longer than if they had gone to prison. Sometimes they will remain under the board’s authority for life. For most PSRB clients, the first stop after successfully pleading insanity is the Oregon State Hospital.

“We have the least amount of people in the hospital than we ever have, and the most amount of people in the community than we ever have,” says Follansbee. “And the reality is that whenever the hospital says someone is ready to be placed on conditional release, the board almost always approves it.”

Of the 559 people under the PSRB’s jurisdiction, 385 are on conditional release.

In 2011, lawmakers passed legislation that reformed the PSRB system and created a separate board run by the Oregon State Hospital to determine when patients, who haven’t committed violent crimes, can be released. Follansbee, who says there are about 90 people under the separate board, describes this reform as positive, saying that it offers patients one more avenue to obtain conditional release.

At the State Hospital, patients are subject to widely varying degrees of supervision, ranging from closely monitored settings to living semi-independently in group homes on the facility’s grounds. In late March, a patient at the State Hospital who had pleaded guilty except for insanity to an attempted murder charge walked away.

Rebeka Gipson-King, spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority, says that people are often surprised that some patients live semi-independently at the State Hospital.

“The State Hospital is not a punishment,” she says. “They are sent there to get better.”

However, some mental health advocates have seen things differently.

“You have the use of the State Hospital as a punishment, a very expensive punishment,” says Chris Bouneff, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Oregon. Bouneff says that under the PSRB’s previous executive director, Mary Claire Buckley, clients would be sent back to the State Hospital for relatively minor infractions, such as failing a drug test, which could be addressed in a less costly way. “It certainly wasn’t helping with the smooth operating of our mental health operation,” he says.

Patrick, who doesn’t want his real name used in this article because he’s still under the jurisdiction of the PSRB, says that his defense lawyer talked him into pleading guilty except for insanity to what he says was a bogus burglary charge. His lawyer told him he would spend a few months in the State Hospital. Instead he got 10 years of being under the PSRB’s jurisdiction.

After spending three years in the State Hospital, he was released to a group home in Portland, where he says the threat of being sent back was used as a threat to keep residents in line.

“The overall structure is, if you bring an issue to your case monitor that could result in very negative things happening to you,” he says.

An investigation into allegations that Buckley was verbally abusive was dropped following her resignation this past summer. She was hired by the Portland Police Bureau as a policy analyst in November.

Follansbee wouldn’t speak to criticisms leveled against her predecessor, but she did say that she wants clients, victims and mental health advocacy organizations, which she refers to as “partners,” to be heard throughout the process.

“They often have competing interests and views,” she says, noting that stakeholders’ interests won’t always align. “That’s challenging, and one of the ways we want to work collaboratively is to build relationships where all of our stakeholders feel like they’re getting a fair shake.”

Although Follansbee says she doesn’t want to keep someone in the hospital unnecessarily, she says a cautious approach is still needed.

Oregon law directs the board to have “as its primary concern the protection of society” when making decisions regarding the conditional release or discharge of patients. And to get out of the hospital, patients still have to go through four separate layers of approval, all of which  Follansbee says are needed.

“The data suggests that slow incremental moves will give our clients the tools, so when they are no longer under our board, they can continue their stability,” says Follansbee. “It’s clear by our recidivism rate that when you’re under our board you’re going to remain stable.”

One thing that everyone agrees on is that the PSRB has been effective in carrying out its public safety mandate. The recidivism rate for the PSRB for the last 15 years is 2.66 percent. Of the 1,655 people who’ve obtained conditional release over the last 15 years, only 17 have committed new felonies.

“When you look at Mary Clare Buckley’s record and lack of recidivism, it’s clear that she didn’t take a lot of chances on people,” says Jason Renaud, spokesperson for the Mental Health Association of Portland.

“It seems like what happens when you have a strong personality in charge of an organization, the process just sort of fades,” says Bob Joondeph, the executive director of Disability Rights Oregon. Although the PSRB is designed to move carefully, he says, Follansbee has so far “brought a less hierarchical and more collaborative approach to making the process work the way it’s supposed to.”

Joondeph says that movies and TV have long fueled the notion that mentally ill people are dangerous and need to be locked up. He says that the PSRB should focus more on recovery and individuals under it should receive treatment in the least segregated settings possible, which he says the board doesn’t have the best track record on.

“It’s a difficult position to be in because public safety is our mandate,” says Follansbee. “It’s difficult to have everyone in our system happy with the results.”

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

‘Broken promises’ at Fairness Hearing

Posted by Jenny on 19th February 2014

fedcourtjpg-b79072e75a265771The Portland Mercury, Feb. 19, 2014

It was billed as a signature piece of a proposed legal settlement meant to answer federal accusations that Portland police officers engage “in a pattern or practice” of using excessive force against people in mental-health crisis.

READOur spoken testimony at the Fairness Hearing

READOur written testimony submitted to Judge Simon

Working with the state and county—who control mental health funding in Oregon—the city would establish treatment facilities where people in crisis could either be dropped off by police officers or check in voluntarily. The city was so bullish, back when the provision was negotiated by ex-Mayor Sam Adams in 2012, city officials thought they might open the centers by summer 2013.

But on Tuesday, February 18, those officials and US Department of Justice attorneys offered an admission that advocates have long fretted over. It was during an hours-long “fairness hearing”—a key step before US District Court Judge Michael Simon either approves or rejects the settlement.

Not only are those treatment centers not even close to opening, but they might never open at all.Despite the centers’ promise of providing treatment and hopefully minimizing contact between cops and people in crisis, the call to build them is merely “aspirational,” according to a presentation aired in court by the feds.

“This agreement has no influence on those services,” said Chris Bouneff, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Oregon.

The US Department of Justice had called Bouneff as a friendly witness. The state and county, he said, “are not at the table and there’s nothing to compel them to be at the table to increase the type of services necessary. That element will be missing in this agreement.”

Jonas Geissler, an attorney for the US Department of Justice’s civil rights division in Washington, DC, hammered that point earlier in the hearing.

“Those agencies may be beyond the current reach of this” proposed legal settlement, Geissler said.

That admission came early in Tuesday’s watershed court session—the first chance for the public to sound off about a deal many think should go further, and the most substantive chance yet for the city and the feds to defend the particulars they negotiated specifically to avoid a court trial.

Simon, the judge, says he’ll decide if he likes it as early as mid-March.

That deal—which eventually gained the assent of the Portland Police Association—includes changes to how police are trained and use force. It gave way to the creation of a special mental health unit. It’s also fueled changes in oversight that have long been criticized for failing to empower civilians.

But Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland reacted dourly to the clarification about the treatment centers during a break in the proceedings. He invoked the names of Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, and James Chasse Jr.—all struggling with mental-health issues, all killed by Portland police during the past decade.

“What they needed was a safe sanctuary. I’m not sure training and policy would have made a difference,” Renaud says. “Those facilities would make a brick-and-mortar difference. ‘Aspirational’ is a broken promise.”

Ellen Osoinach, a deputy city attorney who helped negotiate the deal, told the court during the city’s presentation that the hazy commitment to building those facilities was intentional.

“Rather than obligate the city to run a mental-health facility,” she said, “the city accepted a requirement to work in cooperation with other government agencies.”

And as the city sees it, it’s lived up to its commitment, Osoinach said. For the past few years, the council has including a call for increased mental-health funding in its state and federal legislative lobbying wish lists.

“The city has followed through on that commitment by lobbying aggressively for increased funding for mental-health services for the past three years,” she told the court.

It was maybe the most surprising development to emerge from the long-promised hearing, the likely fault lines of which had been clear for months.

As expected, watchdog groups—including the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMA) and Portland Copwatch—clamored for more robust civilian oversight. Copwatch urged the judge to alter the deal before approving it—something Simon says he’s not allowed to do. He can only say yes or no, if he decides what’s presented is “fair, adequate, and reasonable.”

The AMA said it supported the deal, but with reservations. Its members had hoped the feds would do away with a 48-hour window, enshrined in union agreements, that lets cops put off giving statements after using deadly force.

“We see the positive aspects as an opportunity to set a floor, not a ceiling. Not the end,” AMA President T. Allen Bethel told the courtroom. “This agreement must be monitored so that the city and the Portland Police Bureau can be held accountable by a higher and more powerful group than the city itself or the [police] association or the bureau.”

And groups representing black Portlanders—most notably the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but also the Urban League of Portland and the AMA—reiterated their long-held disappointment the agreement sidestepped the concern that led the AMA to seek a federal investigation in the first place: racial profiling. They were dismayed by testimony from a police consultant who said the feds looked at those claims, but set them aside because of a lack of data.

In all, Simon invited more than 60 people and organizations to testify. The hearing was expected to go on so long that Simon offered to stay until the dinner hour, and move some testimony to the following day.

Realistically, getting the mental-health facilities built has always been a long shot. The agreement instructed the city to work with Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs)—new health-care providers set up to manage federal health-care reform and help dispense Medicaid.

Working with the CCOs would help the city tap into that federal cash. Two meetings were held in 2012, late in Mayor Adams’ term, to get the CCOs on board. But the groups said they had to get their feet beneath them. Little has changed more than a year later.

The police bureau still wants a drop-off center—but figuring out who will fund and manage it, and what services it might offer, has been difficult. Traditionally, mental-health treatment is the purview of the county.

Captain Mike Marshman, the police bureau’s police reform czar, admits it’s been easier to work on the parts of the deal the bureau controls.

“Those discussions are going on” with the state and county, he says. “It’s a slow, slow process.”

Renaud started working with Mayor Charlie Hales‘ office on the idea last January. He was part of a task force that included county officials and Hales’ former public safety director, Baruti Artharee.

By November 2013, Renaud was ready to pitch Hales’ office for budget help. He said a 22-employee walk-in center would cost a little more than $2 million to start up and run for a year. The center was not included in the city’s most recent budget documents.

“There’s lots of money,” Renaud says. “It’s just being spent on other things. What happens the next time someone dies?”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »