Collaboration Aims to Help Mentally Ill Caught in Criminal Justice System

The Lund Report

By Jessica Floum

Oregon state officials held the first steering committee meeting Wednesday to improve how the state’s criminal justice and behavioral health systems treat people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Chaired by Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen and Marion County Sheriff Jason Myer, the 28-member steering committee aims to break down silos among the state’s law enforcement, health care and judicial systems to provide treatment for mentally ill people and keep them from repeatedly ending up behind bars or in an emergency department.

The committee’s efforts are part of the federally funded Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a nonpartisan effort to increase public safety. The committee plans to put forth policy proposals in February for the Legislature to consider during the 2019 session.

Too many people with mental health needs are ending up in an incarceration system that was not designed to deal with them, Allen said.

“The criminal justice system was designed to prevent, protect against and prosecute criminal offenses,” he said in a statement. “It was not designed to treat mental illness or substance addiction. The best way to support people with behavioral health needs is to connect them to treatment in their local communities.”

“We know that for somebody who is having a mental health crisis, that jail is not the right place for them,” Myers said.

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