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Judge grants order aimed at speeding up admissions to Oregon State Hospital

Entrance to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Entrance to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

A federal judge has signed off on new rules for the Oregon State Hospital with the hope that people in local jails who need to access the psychiatric facility for treatment spend less time waiting.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman noted in his Monday order that the state hospital remains out of compliance with a decades-old court injunction requiring the state hospital to admit people within seven days if they’re found unable to assist in their own defense due to a mental illness.

The order modifies more sweeping changes made last September by preventing people charged with the lowest level crimes from going to the state hospital at all. It also allows district attorneys to request defendants charged with the most serious crimes stay at the hospital longer. Mosman’s amended order also provides the state hospital more flexibility when discharging certain patients so they have the necessary support.

Mosman’s decision comes after months of litigation and settlement discussions between state health officials, local prosecutors, disability advocates and judges.

“We are grateful to all the stakeholders involved and the willingness to engage in the process of moving this state in a direction that respects the constitutional rights of the most vulnerable people in our community,” said Jesse Merrithew, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the case. “Ultimately, getting us out of this constitutional crisis is a task that the Oregon legislature must take up.”

In September, Mosman agreed to significant changes and reduced the amount of time people known as “aid and assist” patients could stay at the psychiatric hospital. It allows people charged with misdemeanors to stay at the hospital for up to 90 days, six months for non-violent felonies, or one year for violent charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences under Ballot Measure 11.

Former U.S. Attorney Billy Williams is representing the district attorneys from Washington, Marion and Clackamas counties who got involved in the case after that initial order was signed. He said Monday’s order offered “important improvements” and that he was grateful their perspectives were ultimately included.

“There’s so much interaction between the mental health system and the public safety system,” Williams said. “Issues that involve mental health crisis, homelessness and substance abuse disorder — those three elements are driving so much of what is going on.”
Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.