Judge Declines to Stop Oregon State Hospital Early Releases

The decision has left community hospitals and county prosecutors livid.

REFLECTING: A puddle along the North Park Blocks. (Brian Burk)

Senior U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman rejected demands Jan. 9 that he reverse an order he issued last year limiting the time “aid-and-assist” patients could stay at the overflowing Oregon State Hospital.

Such patients, charged with crimes but too ill to stand trial, can now be held for a maximum of only one year—years less than state statute dictates.

The decision was supported by prisoner rights advocates and state administrators who are seeking to free up beds. But it left community hospitals and county prosecutors livid. They say they’ve had to deal with the consequences: an unexpected flood of mentally ill criminal defendants they are unable to treat or try.

On Monday, Judge Mosman upheld his prior order, saying it just needed time to work.

“Despite herculean efforts by all involved—constitutional violations against defendants suffering from mental illness have not been abated,” Mosman wrote, noting that for the past three years defendants have been forced to sit in jail for weeks because beds were unavailable at the state hospital. That practice was ruled unconstitutional by another judge in 2002 and remains a “statewide humanitarian crisis,” Mosman wrote.

Mosman noted that the Oregon Legislature had allocated $1.3 billion to address this issue, so far to no avail.

He requested patience, but left open the possibility that “other measures” would be required in the future. “If all goes to plan, [the order] will enable the state to achieve compliance with the Constitution next year, for the first time in nearly half a decade,” Mosman concluded.

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