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Judge rules new limits on stays at Oregon State Hospital will remain in place

Oregon State Hospital is pictured in this January 2022 file photo.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Oregon State Hospital is pictured in this January 2022 file photo.

New requirements aimed at speeding up admissions and reducing the amount of time patients charged with crimes can stay at the Oregon State Hospital will remain in place, a federal judge in Oregon ruled Tuesday.

The ruling is a blow to private hospitals, district attorneys and state court judges who sought to dissolve an order signed by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman.

“The September 1 Order must be given time to work and for its effects to materialize,” Mosman states in Tuesday’s decision. “If all goes to plan, it will enable the state to achieve compliance with the Constitution next year, for the first time in nearly half a decade. However, if it does not, other measures will be needed.”

Mosman’s ruling Tuesday maintains a long-brokered agreement between the Oregon Health Authority and disability rights groups. The plan reduced the amount of time people charged with crimes can stay at the state’s psychiatric facility with the goal of admitting people faster.

Under a 20-year-old federal court order, the Oregon State Hospital is required to admit people charged with crimes within seven days of a judge deeming them unable to aid in their own defense.

During the last several years, the list of people deemed too mentally ill to be prosecuted, but stuck in jail has grown, violating the constitutional rights of the defendants.

“During the course of those three and a half years — and despite herculean efforts by all involved — constitutional violations against defendants suffering from mental illness have not been abated,” Mosman wrote in his decision. “The actions taken by Plaintiffs and Defendants catalogue well-thought-out, less-intrusive alternatives that were tried and have failed.”

The district attorneys and private hospitals who hoped to dissolve the order argued that dismissing patients on a set timeline risked returning to jail people who were still not stable enough to face trial.

“We continue to be concerned about how the mental health crisis impacts public safety and the rights of crime victims,” said former U.S. Attorney Billy Williams who is representing the district attorneys from Washington, Clackamas and Marion counties. “We will continue to engage with stakeholders who are committed to improving the critically important and closely intertwined mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice systems.”

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller, who oversees specialty courts that focus on mental health, said Mosman’s ruling means state court judges will continue to balance public safety and the mental health needs of defendants.

“The public and elected leaders will see the impact, consider whether they are desirable or acceptable, and help determine the path forward,” Waller said in a statement. “The decision puts a spotlight on the need for additional community mental health resources. The legislature is paying attention to that need and the challenge remains to develop that capacity.”

Disability rights groups have long urged the state to invest more in secure residential treatment facilities and other housing that could reduce the reliance on the state hospital.

This story may be updated.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.