Hospitals criminalizing mental illness

A new report from Disability Rights Oregon’s Mental Health Rights Project reveals that Portland-area hospitals rely on the police to arrest and remove patients with mental health conditions who are seeking care or have been recently discharged. The report is titled, The ‘Unwanteds’: Looking for Help Landing in Jail.

One person who shared her story with Disability Rights Oregon for the report was Jessica Sharp. Jessica experienced schizophrenia, was arrested for trespass as Providence Milwaukie Hospital. She has since passed away from cancer. You can watch Jessica tell her story here.

“Our lives and our dignity have inherent value and we deserve to be treated like anyone else and to receive medical treatment when we need it.” – Jessica Sharp

The report was released against the backdrop of twin crises — a scarcity of both affordable housing and local mental health treatment options. In the last seven years, the number of people of with serious mental health issues who are reeled into Oregon’s criminal justice system more than doubled. Inadequate investment in community-based mental health treatment and affordable housing, poor discharge planning by hospitals, and few crisis response teams for people with mental health conditions continue to exacerbate these crises.

People of Color, People Who Are Homeless More Likely to Be Arrested

The report, which examined calls from six Portland-area hospitals to the Portland Police Bureau in which the primary offense was trespass, covered a one-year period between 2017 and 2018. People who were homeless (72 percent) and people of color (35 percent) were more likely to be arrested for trespassing at a hospital, according to the report.


Hospital sign in blue and whiteThe report calls on hospitals to change their trespass policies and develop better plans for people when they leave. Over the long term, the report urges hospitals, health insurance companies, and CCOs to pool their dollars to invest in housing and community mental healthcare to help people stay healthy and stable. These pooled healthcare dollars should also be invested in a crisis response team, made up of a medic and mental health specialists, to prevent people in crisis from reaching a jail door.

Additional Resources

—“One Year After ‘A Merry Go Round that Never Stops’” (May 2018)
—“A Merry Go Round that Never Stops: Mental Illness in the Multnomah County Detention Center” (March 2017)

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