Judge offers plan to change how mental health cases are tried in - KPTV - FOX 12

Judge offers plan to change how mental health cases are tried in Multnomah County

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A Multnomah County judge claims taxpayers spend $800 a night to send criminals, many accused of simple misdemeanors, to the Oregon State Hospital. (KPTV) A Multnomah County judge claims taxpayers spend $800 a night to send criminals, many accused of simple misdemeanors, to the Oregon State Hospital. (KPTV)
Judge Edward Jones said he believes that funneling mental health cases through a single courtroom will not only say the county money but improve the treatment for those needing mental health services. (KPTV) Judge Edward Jones said he believes that funneling mental health cases through a single courtroom will not only say the county money but improve the treatment for those needing mental health services. (KPTV)
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

A Multnomah County Judge is pioneering a new plan to put all mental health cases onto one docket - his own.

Judge Edward Jones says he is doing this to help reduce the county's skyrocketing use of the Oregon State Hospital, a problem Jones claims is costing Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars.

In fact, so many different Multnomah County Judges sent so many different defendants unable to aid and assist in their own defense to the Oregon State Hospital last year that Jones said it was nearly impossible to keep a running tally.

"19 different judges sent people there,” he said. “In fact, it was difficult for us to know, or track, who they were all sending to the hospital because of the way we're all spread around the building."

Because of that poor coordination, Jones said the county's use of the state's mental hospital went up dramatically. When he took a look at the numbers, he was astounded.

"We focused on the people with misdemeanors - disorderly conduct, shoplifting - these kinds of crimes where they get arrested but can't function, so we end up sending them to state hospital," Jones said. "We sent 48 of those people there who spent a total of 4,000 days there."

At $800 a night to stay at the Oregon State Hospital, those 48 people arrested for misdemeanors cost Oregon taxpayers some $3 million during their rehabilitation, and that's for just Multnomah County.

And after all of that time and money, Jones said charges often were dismissed for most defendants because the charges stemmed from petty crimes.

"That's $64,000 per person who committed a misdemeanor in the community," Oregon State Hospital Superintendent Greg Roberts said. "They may have urinated in public, or littered, or hassled clerk at a 7-11 store, and for that amount of money, can't we find a more appropriate service for them?"

Roberts told FOX 12 the hospital is flooded with these types of defendants because there is nowhere else for them to go in Multnomah County besides jail.

The hospital calls them 370 patients, named after the state's aid and assist statute. While FOX 12 was visiting the hospital, Roberts said they were housing 220 of them and capacity is 184.

"When the census climbs above 184, we have to put 370 patients in units that are meant to serve civilly committed people, or others already adjudicated as guilty except for insanity,"  he explained.

Jones said he is not sure what led to the recent leap in state hospital referrals, but partly blames patient privacy laws.

"The big challenge is often identifying who someone's provider was, what meds have they taken and how quickly can we re-medicate, that's a big issue in the jail right now," he said. "If we can identify that early and get them back into treatment we can avoid shipments to the state hospital, which is better for that person."

Jones now plans to take on all mental health cases himself, hoping to reduce the county's overuse of the state hospital.

"We've decided to bring all that together in one court, one day a week, with one consistent judge to manage the process and decide who goes to the state hospital or not," he explained.

It's an idea Roberts supports.

"It's absolutely the right thing to do,” he said. “Any services that meet a person's mental health needs without arresting them, I think that's the solution we're all looking for and I think Judge Jones is taking a step in that direction."

Jones said it is just one step toward addressing how Multnomah County treats the mentally ill.

"Ideally, we’re going to treat these people in the community,” he said. “There’s a push, both legislatively and through the state health department, to do a much better job of treating people without having to send them to the state hospital."

Jones said he plans to bring all mental health cases onto his own docket beginning September 13.

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