Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) has released a new report, “A Merry Go Round That Never Stops: Mental Illness in the Multnomah County Detention Center.” Staff attorney Sarah Radcliffe authored the report following an extensive investigation. The report finds that, in many ways, prisoners at the local jail are punished for having a mental illness. Treatment and conditions are traumatizing, dangerous, and even life threatening.
A Merry Go Round That Never Stops: Executive Summary (PDF)
A Merry Go Round That Never Stops: Recommendations (PDF)The report details scenarios in which individual prisoners are subject to violence and abuse. When a detainee is returned to the streets in greater distress than when taken into custody, the jail is failing its role to protect the person and public safety. The report offers recommendations to help jails and community providers successfully meet the needs of Oregonians with severe mental illness.
Our communities are stronger when our policies and practices reflect the intrinsic value of all human beings. Jail has become our community’s default behavioral health hospital, a role for which is it under-resourced, understaffed, and undertrained. Between 40-80% of people incarcerated in the jail have mental health concerns, and yet deputies working in the jail receive no mental health or crisis intervention training. Detainees with mental illness at MCDC rarely access to fresh air or human contact. Even visits with mental health workers often occur through the food port of a cell. It’s clear that solitary confinement is detrimental to physical and mental health.
Disability Rights Oregon envisions a city and county in which people with disabilities are integrated into the fabric of daily life through supports. To accomplish this, they need affordable, supportive housing and robust community mental health services, not being locked behind closed doors. We offer general recommendations:
- Offer treatment for mental illness, rather than criminalize it
- End solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness
- Strengthen supports for people with mental health issues in custody
- Create a new protocol for responding to mental health related behavior in jail
- Improve oversight and accountability to remedy systemic race and disability disparities, and prevent staff misconduct In the report, Radcliffe offers detailed, specific recommendations for jails, and governmental and local service providers, which would help achieve these goals.
- Contact your elected officials. Contact your county commissioner and ask her to help create more stable communities by:
- Treating individuals with mental illness in the community
- Ending solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness
- Strengthening supports for people with mental health issues in custody
- Creating a new protocol for responding to mental health related behavior in jail
- Improving oversight and accountability to remedy systemic race and disability disparities, and taking steps to prevent staff misconduct
- Contact your state legislator to support policy changes that would support community integration rather than incarceration for people with mental illness. The Oregon state legislature is considering bills this session that would:
- Require diversion of people in serious mental health crisis from jail to the nearest hospital or facility approved by OHA
- Create a deadline for completing evaluation of people with mental illness who are incarcerated (HB 2631)
- Limit the use of Oregon State Hospital for restorative treatment of people with mental illness in criminal cases, by expanding options for community-based treatment (SB 132)
- For more on DRO’s work in the legislature on these and other bills, join our weekly Legislative Update.
Locking people up and discharging them without adequate supports does nothing to improve public safety or the livability of our community. It’s harmful for the individuals caught in the revolving door, and it’s a waste of scarce resources.
If you believe individuals should have access to the community mental health services they need, here are three actions you can take: