Reports find mental health services lacking at Multnomah County - KPTV - FOX 12

Reports find mental health services lacking at Multnomah County detention facilities

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Two recent reports about the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department's detention facilities raise serious questions about how the department handles inmates suffering a mental health crisis.

The 2016 Corrections Grand Jury Report for Multnomah County found mental health services lacking across the county's detention facilities, with inmates in crisis regularly placed in isolation at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC).

"It's pretty well recognized that for many people, isolation is harmful for them. It actually makes the mental health crisis worse," said Bob Joondepth, Executive Director of Disability Rights Oregon, a group that advocates for those in need of mental health services.

Joondeph's organization also produced a report critical of Multnomah County's mental health services in jail settings, finding several instances at the Multnomah County Detention Center in which inmates were forcibly restrained while suffering from mental health crises. Some were tackled to the ground and injured, and one inmate was severely beaten by a deputy.

"I think it highlights some of the challenges we have as an organization," said Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese.

Reese said his department is in the process of providing all jail deputies with more training on de-escalation techniques and crisis intervention, but also said his department doesn't have the resources to properly address the lack of mental health services.

"The population we have that need those services has increased dramatically," said Reese. "So putting them in one dorm area and providing service wouldn't meet the needs of all the people in custody right now. The problem has just grown so much."

Janie Marsh, a peer advocate who herself experienced a mental health crisis while serving time in jail, said part of the problem not often addressed is the prevailing attitude toward those who require mental health services.

"Just historically how it's been. Sort of the culture of that industry," said Marsh. "It's, you know, 'you must comply. You're in jail now, you must have committed a crime. You're an inmate. You will do what I say.'"

Marsh finally found treatment services during her time in prison, and was able to kick a 20-year meth habit. She now works with Multnomah County to provide insight, and provide peer-delivered services inside the jail.

Marsh said the Sheriff's Department has been willing to work with her, but said it's also important to remember that those who need help inside jails are people, and not just inmates.

"We can and we do recover. And become your neighbor. And become a contributing person in society," said Marsh.

Marsh said she believes established attitudes about inmates in mental health crisis are gradually changing, and said she remains hopeful conditions can improve in the future.

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