Oregon Justice Reinvestment Bill Dedicates $10.6M to Curb Jail Bookings of People with Behavioral Health Needs

By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff

US Map with Oregon HighlightedJail bookings and hospital emergency department visits are projected to drop by 20 percent in the next five years as a result of a Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment bill signed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on July 15.

Senate Bill (SB) 973, developed with the assistance of The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, creates a state-run grant program offering counties and tribal nations assistance building up community-based supports and services for people with mental illnesses and substance addictions who commonly end up in state jails, courts and hospitals. The legislation injected an initial $10.6 million into the program for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

Why is SB 973 needed?

Oregon is facing significant challenges within its behavioral health system, which, in turn, impact the state’s criminal justice system. The state has one of the highest rates in the nation of people with mental illnesses and substance addictions, and the death rates from drug overdoses and suicides are growing. The Oregon State Hospital is currently unable to keep up with referrals. In addition, thousands of people with mental illnesses and substance addictions cycle through Oregon county jails, courts, and hospitals, resulting in millions of dollars in local and state expenditures, often with little benefit for the people suffering from these conditions or their communities.

What does this legislation mean for Oregon residents?

By changing the way communities respond to people with complex behavioral health needs, fewer people will end up in jails and emergency departments. Under IMPACTS (Improving People’s Access to Community-Based Treatment, Supports, and Services) program, counties, tribal nations, and regional consortiums will be able to submit proposals that seek to strengthen local and regional supports and services for people who frequently cycle through jails, courts, and hospitals. Supports and services could include supportive housing and crisis stabilization units or medications and care coordination.

As part of their proposal, jurisdictions will identify a meaningful match or local contribution that can be paired with new state funding. They will also provide data on key outcome metrics for people being served with grant funds to inform statewide and local policy decisions regarding continued investment.

In the first two years, approximately 400 people will be served through IMPACTS grant funding in locations across the state. Based on the results achieved with this initial group, the state hopes to expand the grant program statewide in years to come. This growth is not only intended to improve people’s lives but to reduce pressures on law enforcement and free up taxpayer dollars that can be used to tackle other concerns in the state.

How was the legislation developed?

In the summer of 2018, Oregon state and county leaders requested and received technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center to use a data-driven Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment approach to evaluate issues related to people with mental illnesses and substance addictions who frequently cycle through the state’s jails, courts, and hospitals. They also sought recommendations to more effectively use state and local resources to improve criminal justice outcomes for this population. The project was guided by Oregon’s 32-member Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee, which recommended the creation of the grant program that is the centerpiece of SB 973.

Read the behavioral health and criminal justice system analysis presentations that CSG Justice Center staff delivered to the steering committee in 2018.