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DHS news release

August 21, 2007

Contact: Jim Sellers 503-945-5738
Program contact: Len Ray 503-945-9714

State seeks county proposals to divert people with serious mental illness from jail

Mental health officials in Oregon's 36 counties have until Sept. 20 to submit proposals to the Oregon Department of Human Services for reducing the amount of time people with severe and persistent mental illness spend in jail.

DHS will begin distributing $4 million in newly authorized jail-diversion funds in October based on the size of counties' adult populations.

"In my 30 years working in the mental health system, this is the first time we have had a dedicated source of funding to directly address the problem of people with mental illness going to jail," said Bob Nikkel, DHS assistant director for addictions and mental health. "We need to reduce the number of people with mental illness who go to jail, which worsens their symptoms, while guaranteeing the community's continued safety."

The initiative responds to a 2005 survey of county jail commanders that found 9 percent of inmates experienced mental illness, and that these inmates were often jailed for relatively minor offenses. The report concluded other means of dealing with these people could both reduce their symptoms and save tax dollars.

Nikkel said counties are being asked for proposals that will permit DHS to report positive outcomes to the 2009 Oregon Legislature. Among the elements are diversion to treatment courts, supportive employment, supportive housing and referral to Dual Diagnosis Anonymous peer-support groups. He said county proposals could focus on helping people with mental illness avoid jail, assisting them after release or both.

Nikkel said no inmate would be diverted from jail if it potentially jeopardized public safety.

"This initiative is a result of the greater understanding by the Governor, lawmakers and the public that investing in mental health services is cost-effective and produces positive outcomes for people and communities," Nikkel said. "It is especially timely because so much literature is now available on what strategies are effective."

"Our hope is this is just the beginning of building increased support for services for Oregonians with mental illness over the next two or three biennia."

(Note: A 2006 news release on this subject can be found on the DHS Web site.)

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