Woman with mental illness stashed in jail: ‘Cruel’ ordeal never should have happened

From The Oregonian, February 20, 2015

A woman suffering from a severe mental illness sat locked in isolation in a Yamhill County jail for 10 days awaiting a state psychiatric bed. She was suicidal, hearing voices and unable to get proper medication to treat her psychosis.

She was never charged with a crime. Three judges tried to get her out, but she languished in the jail’s medical unit: a casualty of an unprecedented breakdown in Oregon’s civil commitment system.

Her experience is an extreme example of the glaring deficiencies in how the state treats people suffering from the most severe mental illnesses, often boarding them in inappropriate locations before they get long-term help.

The 38-year-old woman – homeless and penniless – shouldn’t have had to spend a day in jail. She should have gone immediately to one of the state’s 15 acute care hospitals or to the Oregon State Hospital, the state’s mental hospital in Salem.

But county and state officials said none of them had room for her particular problems. Jurisdictional lines and bureaucratic hurdles also contributed to the delay.

The situation clearly violated the state’s legal obligation, mental health advocates said.

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