Marion County Sues State Over Lack of Psychiatric Treatment for Criminal Defendants

The lawsuit was filed the day after a federal judge overruled Marion County judges’ efforts to stop the early discharge of inmates from the overburdened state psychiatric hospital.

EVENING: Oregon State Hospital campus, Salem (Brian Burk)

Tensions have erupted, once again, between county, state and federal officials at odds over who is to blame for the state’s failure to offer sufficient treatment to criminal defendants suffering from mental illness.

First, Portland federal judge Michael Mosman yesterday invoked the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution to force the release of mentally ill inmates from the state’s locked psychiatric hospital, which has, until recently, had a growing waitlist due to a lack of beds.

Mosman acted in response to Marion County judges who had defied a previous order from Mosman limiting the length of hospital stays. At issue were seven patients from Marion County held in Oregon State Hospital in August beyond Mosman’s limits, thanks to a lack of community facilities able to take them. County judges had ordered them be kept at the state hospital.

Mosman pulled rank, saying those orders were void in a filing in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Previously, Mosman had denied Marion County’s efforts to become a party to those federal legal proceedings, which stem from a decades-old lawsuit by disability rights advocates accusing the state of warehousing mentally ill inmates in jails. (The county has appealed the decision.) So, it currently has little recourse to challenge the ruling.

Instead, the county has filed a new lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court.

Late this afternoon, Marion County announced it was suing the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon State Hospital for failing to meet their “statutory obligation to evaluate and treat individuals with pending criminal charges,” according to a press release.

“For too long, the State has failed to meet its legal obligation to fund, build, and staff sufficient beds for the growing number of Oregonians who need inpatient behavioral health restoration services. By Oregon law, only the State can provide or contract for this inpatient hospital level of restoration care. It has failed to do so,” read the release. “The State’s failure to provide sufficient inpatient capacity has had severe, devastating impacts on livability and public safety in our county.”

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