More defendants go to Oregon State Hospital
SALEM — Officials report a marked increase in the number of criminal defendants ordered to the Oregon State Hospital, calling it an expensive trend that can't continue.
The number in the hospital rose from 88 in 2010 to 151 last month, Superintendent Greg Roberts told legislators Thursday. Two-thirds of the people admitted to the hospital last year were such defendants, he said.
“This trend is unsustainable,” he said. “We just don't have the ability to do that, but that's what's been happening over the last few years.”
Judges send criminal defendants to the hospital when they're found to be unable to assist in their cases, The Oregonian reported.
Treating them so they can assist runs to nearly $250,000 a year, according to hospital statistics.
The hospital can keep such patients for up to three years, or the maximum sentence that could have been imposed if the defendant were found guilty, whichever is shorter.
Roberts said part of the problem is a shortage of community mental health programs.
Oregon also is in the middle of a four-year agreement with the federal Justice Department, which has found the state lags far behind in providing adequate community mental health programs as alternatives to institutions.
Lawmakers are in Salem for committee hearings and informational briefings, and said they would revisit the question in the fall.
In the meantime, some said they were surprised that people facing minor misdemeanor charges could be sent to the hospital.
Sixty percent of the patients sent by judges faced felony charges, and 40 percent faced misdemeanors, Roberts said.
Those can include charges such as public urination.
“Public urination?” asked a dismayed Rep. Carolyn Tomei of Milwaukie, the committee's chairwoman.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com