Oregon Revised Statutes requires at least once yearly, a grand jury shall inquire into the condition and management of every correctional facility and youth correction facility in each county.
Each year witnesses are called before the grand jury who represent a wide range of individuals whose lives and careers are affected by the operations of corrections in our community. They include government and political leaders, defense counsel, inmates, supervisory authority personnel and correction employees. The observations, conclusions and recommendations of the grand jury’s annual report are based upon the testimony of these witnesses, from the facts and figures they provided, and from observations of the grand jury as it tours the county’s correctional facilities.Below is an excerpt from the 2008 Multnomah County corrections grand jury report.
One of the biggest frustrations of this and past corrections grand juries has been the number of people with severe mental illnesses who are incarcerated. Years ago, the State of Oregon abandoned its responsibility to take care of these vulnerable people and local resources have never been adequate to meet the demand. Consequently when someone with a severe mental illness commits a minor crime, the police in most cases have the difficult choice of leaving a troubled and potentially dangerous person in the community or taking the person to jail.
Currently, our jail refuses to book people with serious injuries. If the jail extended that exclusion to people with severe mental illness, it would create a crisis in our community. There would simply be no place to put most of the seriously mentally ill defendants because of the lack of resources. At least in the jail they have adequate supervision, better medical attention, food and a place to sleep.In our tour of the jail we observed the inter-disciplinary team and we thought that they were conscientious, thoughtful and compassionate. The professionalism of the team assists each client drawing from the observations of deputies, medical staff, and counselors. It is a true team effort and exemplifies the best aspects of direct supervision.
We believe that our jails do a good job with the mentally ill population, but jail is not the right place to put them in most cases. We are not talking about people who commit the most serious offenses; we are talking about people who repeatedly violate minor laws.
Within any community there is a certain portion of the population with mental illness who need prolonged supervision and housing. It appears that both our state and local officials have ignored that principle and in so doing have doomed many of these men and women to jail by default, rather than dealing with them in a more civil and sometimes less expensive manner.