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Take Care: Addressing the intersectionality between crime, mental illness

Editor’s Note: In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, this is Part 2 of a month-long series centering around the many facets of mental health from community, to crime, to survivor stories, and those left behind. Read Part 1, “Take Care: Destigmatizing mental health issues through education, community events,” here.

When examining the intersectionality between mental health and crime, it’s important to begin in a place of understanding that the nation, let alone the state of Oregon, is not yet equipped to properly manage mentally ill people’s needs through care and support services as well as affordable housing. To add to the equation, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than the perpetrators, according to a 2023 study.

But what happens when someone showing signs of mental illness is arrested?

According to Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold, there isn’t any data to showcase the trends of crimes that mentally ill people may commit, though he did note that trespass and disorderly conduct are common.

There is, however, a cycle of criminalization of mental illness identified by the Disability Rights Oregon (DRO).

After a person is arrested, they are brought before a judge. If that person is deemed unable to participate in their own defense — otherwise known as to “aid and assist” — an evaluation is performed.

LCSO evaluations, according to Harrold, are conducted at the Oregon State Hospital, which may take up to eight weeks. The evaluation indicates whether a person is able to aid and issues, a possible diagnosis or condition, and whether treatment is recommended in the community or a hospital setting.

If the evaluation states that an individual is able to aid and assist, then the case continues. If not, charges are put on hold until the person is able to aid and assist, and the judge orders the person to receive restoration treatment.

According to DRO, it costs about $240,000 for one person to receive treatment at the state psychiatric hospital for one year, and the organization sees this costly process as futile because those individuals who are eventually discharged from the state hospital often find themselves being arrested again, and the process continues.

Harrold mentioned that an alternative to requiring the person to receive restoration treatment is for the judge to dismiss the charges due to the person’s inability to participate in their own defense.

“If I were king for a day, we would have a much better ability to have people in a medical setting that are experiencing that kind of crisis. Then once they’re stabilized, we would have a place – instead of releasing them to the street, where oftentimes they self-medicate with the wrong drugs – to release them to try and keep them stabilized,” Harrold said. “But those resources are just really, severely lacking – not just in our county, not just in our state, but really across the nation. … The whole system is not anywhere near what it should be.”


It seems smaller local agencies do not have as much data or resources when it comes to acknowledging the intersectionality of crime and mental illness.

Cottage Grove Police Department (CGPD) police chief Cory Chase said CGPD does not currently capture any data like this, but it is something the department has discussed conceptually.

Springfield Police Department public information officer Zak Gosa-Lewis echoed Chase, adding that while officers do not act as mental health practitioners and diagnose individuals, they are trained to utilize a police officer hold (POH) when they identify that the individual may be a danger to themselves or others. POHs do not provide SPD with the data to track any trends in mental illness, though.

Gosa-Lewis added that the Springfield Municipal Jail utilizes the same contractor for mental health services as the Lane County Jail.


Creswell Sergeant Alex Speldrich said LCSO is in the process of creating a crisis response team for all of Lane County since CAHOOTS, a mobile crisis intervention program staffed by White Bird Clinic personnel, stays within Eugene and Springfield city limits.

He added that LCSO officers consistently use the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) of Lane County: a nonprofit organization which deploys volunteer first responders when there’s been a traumatic event. Program director Bridget Byfield said TIP is able to provide “emotional first aid” to people in crisis.

“Most of our calls this year have been overdoses and suicides, and I think it’s very hard for a mom to call a friend or a sister,” Byfield said, noting the stigma still attached to mental health crises. “Instead, we just support them through that.”

Sergeant Jesse Olsen noted that agencies are generally doing a good job of teaching officers the difference between someone going through a mental health crisis and an angry, dangerous person, which can help officers properly assess and diffuse a situation. But although there has recently been a noticeable increase in mental health training for officers, Speldrich said “we don’t get nearly enough, in my opinion.”

According to Harrold, Lane County Jail is using its contracted mental health staff to implement a wellness program for inmates that goes against the typical corrections mindset that someone who’s exhibiting poor behavior will remain in their cell more hours of the day.

“What our wellness program does is it says we’re gonna identify these folks that we’re familiar with because they get booked into jail periodically. We’re gonna have a multidisciplinary team – which is made up of deputy sheriffs, medical staff, and mental health staff – and we’re going to choose to put people in this wellness program where instead of saying ‘once your behavior improves, we’ll bring you our more often,’ we’re bringing them out more often in hopes of improved behavior,” Harrold said.

While he said he can’t yet say that the wellness program is giving people the tools to not wind up back in jail again, Harrold said the wellness program has resulted in fewer uses of force and fewer activations of the special operations response team because “we’re managing behavior in a different way.”

“We’re making an investment in mental health specialists, but we’re spending less money on calling in our special team to deal with cell extractions and those sorts of things,” he said.



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