National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon (NAMI SO) Position Regarding Jackson County New Jail Proposal

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National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon (NAMI SO) Position
Regarding Jackson County New Jail Proposal

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) continues to hold that incarceration is not the appropriate response to mental illness, as mental illness cannot be punished away. At both the national level and the local Southern Oregon (SO) affiliate levels, NAMI will continue to call for alternatives to incarceration and for creative diversionary efforts in our communities.

In relation to the issue of incarceration and mental health, NAMI SO has the following three goals:

  • To divert those with mental illness out of jails.
  • For those who cannot be diverted (this should be a minority), to ensure mental health services within the jail facility, adequate to the inmate’s needs and following trauma-informed methods.
  • For those released from the jail, to ensure continuity of care and provide a way to successfully reintegrate into the community.

NAMI SO also understands that the current Jackson County Jail facilities are inadequate and perpetuate punishment through architecture, due to a lack of sunlight, outdoor areas (aka “yards”), and confidential areas to conduct mental health services. We agree that a new facility has the potential to improve mental health (MH) service capabilities, because there will be appropriate spaces to deliver services, as well as a significant increase in the operating budget, which will include MH services.

Therefore, NAMI SO would be able to support the proposal for a new Jackson County Jail, if the following three contingencies are included:

  • That Jackson County and the cities therein commit to identifying and implementing a comprehensive program to divert persons with serious and persistent mental illness (and other vulnerable populations such as homeless and substance-addicted persons) out of the jail and into appropriate services and programs.* Eugene’s successful CAHOOTS program – as described in the recent presentation in Medford – is an example. NAMI SO is dedicated to assisting in identifying practical ways of implementing these programs, including – but not limited to – serving on an ongoing ‘Community Justice and Human Services Advisory Committee’.
  • That the Sheriff’s Office and County Commission specify in the ballot’s wording what portion of the Jail’s new operating budget will be dedicated to the delivery of mental health and substance use services within the jail. If the premise holds that people will be held for longer durations within the new jail, it stands to reason that even more MH services will be required, and we want guarantees that this is being budgeted appropriately. This amount should be adequate to attract quality mental health professionals and provide the resources they need to conduct mental health evaluations at booking, perform Aid & Assist duties, suicide-watch duties, on-going MH talk therapy and medication-management. A qualified group of qualified mental health professionals and client-representing organizations should be consulted to determine the adequate MH budget.
  • That a Mental Health Transition Facility (or, better yet, a Mental Health and Substance Use Transition Facility) be a part of the New Jail ballot proposal. The idea of this type of facility is not a new one but has been deemed unlikely to pass. However, if this facility can be used to implement a stabilization and recovery period for this population, the risk of re-arrest decreases, thereby reducing law enforcement expenses, as well as human suffering*. NAMI SO will help educate the public on this issue and assist in campaigning for the facility’s inclusion, but we expect that the County and Sheriff’s Department will also be willing to look for places where costs may be trimmed to help make room for the MH Transition Facility.

In summary, NAMI SO, although understanding the evidence given to support the proposal for a new jail, maintains that there is still only one way to effectively deal with mental illness: treatment. Thus, treatment should be present and attainable throughout all levels of Law Enforcement and the Justice System.

Respectfully Submitted,

National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon Affiliate Collaborative Steering Committee

 

*from the NAMI National website:

“The Problem

The number of people with mental illness in U.S. jails has reached crisis levels. In counties across the nation, jails now have more people with mental illnesses than in their psychiatric hospitals.

Approximately 2 million times each year, people who have serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the nation. Almost three-quarters of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.

The human toll of this problem—and its cost to taxpayers—is staggering. Jails spend two to three times more money on adults with mental illnesses that require intervention than on those without those needs, yet often do not see improvements to public safety or these individuals’ health… Without change, large numbers of people with mental illnesses will continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for these individuals and their families, missed opportunities for connections to treatment, inefficient use of funding, and a failure to improve public safety.”

For further information from the NAMi National website, please see:

Jailing People With Mental Illness