Guest opinion by Richard Harris, director of the Addictions and Mental Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority
Right now, our state is engaged in an important discussion about how to provide treatment for those suffering from mental illness, especially those who may have committed a crime. The goal is to provide the right care at the right time in the right place. Before Oregonians move forward, we must have a clear understanding of the issue.
To help meet their needs and the needs of local communities, the state’s Addictions and Mental Health Division is studying the scope of mental illness in our county jail population. We are looking at the number of people in jail with mental illness as well as the severity and type. We know that people face everything from depression to psychosis, and there are often issues of substance abuse but we need solid data.
Once we have that information, workgroups of mental health consumers, providers and other stakeholders will make recommendations to the legislature on the best way to meet the mental health needs of our jail population. There are many successful interventions already in place in some parts of the state that we can learn from, such as crisis centers and mental health courts, that divert people away from jails and into the appropriate services.
For people who have entered the criminal justice system who need a higher level of mental health treatment and care, the Oregon State Hospital provides an important service. When that’s necessary, the law requires the hospital to admit people within seven days, and there is no waiting list.
Right care, right time, right place. By engaging the community in this discussion, our goal is to reach a place where, instead of being locked up, people with mental illness get the help they need. If you are interested in participating in this process, contact Len Ray, Adult Mental Health Administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.