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Failing the mentally ill

Oregon’s justice system has a dismal track record when it comes to caring for the mentally ill, and a new report in The Oregonian shows it’s not getting any better.

Analysis of public records from the Oregon State Hospital showed county jail and state hospital officials failed more than 200 times since January 2018 to comply with a federal court order requiring mentally ill defendants to be moved into treatment within seven days.

Often, defendants are ordered into “trial fitness treatment” aimed at getting them to a point where they can assist in their defense, a legal requirement before criminal cases can proceed. But this is not happening in a timely fashion.

In one case, a schizophrenic homeless woman from Washington County waited in jail a week past the deadline, then spent two months in the state hospital before she was deemed fit for court. She pleaded guilty to riding public transportation without paying the fare and was sentenced to probation.

In Jackson County, one misdemeanor defendant spent 43 days in jail before entering the state hospital; another waited 36 days. In both cases, court paperwork was late. Sheriffs’ departments also cannot transport prisoners to Salem frequently, because transports mean taking two deputies out of service.

The state could build more treatment facilities at great expense, or re-examine the way the system deals with mentally ill people in the first place.

There is no rational explanation for locking up a schizophrenic person for more than two months for failing to pay bus fare.

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