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An Influx of Inmates with Mental Illness in Oregon

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(Nov. 18, 2013) Of the fourteen thousand inmates in Oregon’s prisons, 4,672 needed mental health treatment in a one-month period – a number that has risen 17% in the last five years, according to data from the state Corrections Department (“Third of Ore. inmates have mental health issues,” the San Francisco Gate, Nov. 11).

jail_barbedwireIt should come as no surprise to anyone that a third of inmates in the state have some sort of mental health issue. Oregon has roughly 18 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people, which is only 39% of the recommended number of beds. One of the consequences of not providing adequate long term care is that people suffering from mental illness are much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

In addition to not having enough psychiatric beds, only 38% the state’s population is served by crisis intervention team (CIT) policing and 54% of the population is served by mental health courts, according to our study “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of the States.”

Everyone talks about the inhumanity of criminalizing people with serious mental illness, but we will continue to see an influx of incarcerated mentally ill people until states make better use of their civil commitment laws and adopt policies to provide treatment to people who need it before they end up being warehoused in our jails and prisons.

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