Providing Help for Mental Health

Alan DeBoer

Hello Friends,

When I first took office in January, one of the issues that I spent the most time on was mental health. This was because of the crisis that took place in the district I represent as a result of disputes between Jackson County and the coordinated care organizations that serve the area.

I heard directly from many vulnerable people whose needs were not being met by the systems we have in place. All of this highlights the need for our mental health services to be responsive to those needs.

Along those lines, efforts are underway to improve the ways in which the state handles mental health issues.

Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke and Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) convened a workgroup yesterday, along with other stakeholders from throughout the state, as part of the legislative committee meetings taking place at the state capitol in Salem this week. The purpose of the workgroup is to make recommendations for updating Oregon’s statutes from the 1970s pertaining to civil commitment procedures.

A large problem is that many persons suffering from mental illness end up in the criminal justice system. Some end up in our jails and prisons, which makes their underlying issues much worse over time.

Wolke stated during the work group’s meeting that around five percent of the nation’s general population has mental illness. However, they also comprise around 17 percent of our jail population and that number continues to grow.

It is estimated that around eight million adults in the United States have serious mental illness, half of whom are untreated. Around 1.8 million of them are booked into jails every year. This population represents one-fourth of fatal encounters involving law enforcement, one-fifth of jail and prison inmates and one-tenth of overall law enforcement encounters. A startling statistic that was discussed at the meeting was that persons with untreated serious mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.

In the state of Oregon, there are around 3,000 persons with serious mental illness who are currently incarcerated.

Many of the processes that can provide those who are suffering with the help they need only start once they become defendants in criminal cases. This is troubling at best.

There are alternatives to civil commitment that may be able to provide solutions to these problems. Judge Wolke is hoping to build on the success of Josephine County’s drug court model and apply a similar approach to mental health.  

Hopefully, the work group and its members will be able to collaborate constructively over the next few months to draft legislation that can address all of this.

The work group’s next meetings are scheduled for October 16 and January 9. I intend to continue working on this very important issue, and will give updates on the progress that is made along the way.

Yours truly,

Sen. Alan DeBoer

Senate District 3

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, S-421, Salem, Oregon 97301