Judge increases fines, pressure on Oregon State Hospital as it fails to admit defendants
In an unusual move, the Multnomah County Circuit Court judge found the Oregon State Hospital in contempt of a previous contempt order for failing to transport two defendants from the Multnomah County Jail who were found guilty except for insanity. The two men have been waiting for admission for months and now fines have increased from $2,500 per day, per defendant as long as they wait in jail.
A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge has once again found the Oregon State Hospital in contempt of a court order, after administrators failed to admit two defendants found guilty except for insanity.
The two men have been waiting in the county’s jail for admission to the state psychiatric hospital for between seven and nine months.
Judge Nan Waller ordered the state to pay $2,500 per day, per person as long as the men wait in jail. It’s a significant increase from last month, when Waller first found the state in contempt of her ruling to transport the two men to the state hospital or pay $100 per day, per person.
“The Oregon State Hospital and the Oregon Health Authority are in contempt of court as defined under [the law] by failing to admit the defendants to OSH for treatment within seven days as mandated by the Court’s 9/22/21 written order,” Waller wrote in her latest order, dated Oct. 22.
Waller required the fines be paid to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county jails, to “exclusively fund staff training for corrections staff on managing the behavioral health issues of people in custody.”
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has not received any payments or invoice orders related to the contempt ruling, a spokesman for the agency said.
Though the court’s ruling was localized to Multnomah County, state hospital officials said that as of Monday, there are 26 people who have been found guilty except for insanity waiting in jails across the state for admission to the state hospital to received treatment and to serve their sentence. That number is increasing: Court documents from September showed 18 people found guilty except for insanity awaiting admission.
“When someone’s been found guilty except for insanity, the law says they need therapy and treatment,” said Stacey Reding, a defense attorney representing one of the men awaiting admission. “Our clients are languishing in jail. It’s not a therapeutic environment for people who are mentally ill. They belong in the state hospital.”
Oregon State Hospital spokesperson Aria Seligmann said the facility has an expedited admission process for any defendant in need of immediate admission.
“OSH has not received expedited admission requests for the [guilty except for insane] defendants you are asking about,” Seligmann said.
The Oct. 22 contempt ruling is the latest in a series of challenges for the state hospital, which serves both those found guilty except for insanity and defendants who need mental health treatment during their criminal case, known as aid and assist patients. Under a long standing federal court order, those defendants are required to be admitted to the state hospital within seven days of a judge finding them too mentally ill to aid in their criminal case.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a federal judge modified that order, granting the hospital more leniency in part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August found the temporary order was too broad. During a hearing last month, a federal judge signaled a likely return to the original seven-day order in the future, barring some unexpected change that dramatically worsened the pandemic.
Attorneys for the state hospital argued before Waller that the federal judge had required the hospital to prioritize aid and to assist patients over those found guilty except for insanity when it come to admissions. In her initial contempt ruling, Waller rejected that argument. She said leaders at the Oregon Health Authority, which runs the state hospital, had made choices that resulted with people being stuck in jail for an undetermined length of time.
The state hospital has also struggled with staffing shortages, twice requiring the National Guard to deploy to assist in patient care.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature granted the Oregon Health Authority $31 million to open 48 additional beds at its facility in Junction City, but hiring has been slow and staff retention has been difficult, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen testified in federal court last month.
Disability advocates and state lawmakers seem to agree that simply adding more beds at the state hospital won’t solve the larger problem of admission and treatment delays. They argue the state has not invested enough in mental and behavioral health facilities in communities across the state, which are designed to intervene before people fall into serious crisis. Lawmakers agreed during the last legislative session to spend $350 million over the next two years to increase capacity and staff at the state hospital, as well as put more money into community programs.
But that does little to help those in jails now awaiting admission to the state hospital.
Reding, the defense attorney, said she’s never seen a judge issue a second contempt order because the first wasn’t being followed. She described the situation at the state hospital as frustrating and perplexing.
“It seems they are completely indifferent to orders from the court,” Reding said. “Their solution is letting people found guilty except for insanity rot in jail.”
Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.