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Talk planned Wednesday on mentally ill people and jail

Marion County officials will give a presentation at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, in Medford about how they are diverting people with mental illness from jail.

The presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period, will be in the George Prescott Room at the Medford Police Department, 219 S. Ivy St.

Marion County Jail Commander Tad Larson and Ann-Marie Bandfield, program manager for acute and forensic behavioral health for Marion County Health & Human Services, will discuss how the two departments work together to divert mentally ill people from jail and de-escalate potentially volatile situations.

Mental health workers from Marion County Health & Human Services ride along with officers. County mental health workers are also embedded in the county jail and do community outreach.

Marion County’s efforts to improve its response to mental illness began after it was criticized for sending the second-highest number of people to the Oregon State Hospital for aid and assist services, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon, which is bringing the presentation to Medford.

People who are too mentally ill to aid and assist their defense lawyers in their court cases have traditionally been sent to the Oregon State Hospital for treatment in hopes they can improve enough psychologically for their cases to move forward.

Marion County now sends the lowest number of aid-and-assist defendants to the Oregon State Hospital, according to NAMI Southern Oregon.

Nationwide, 10 times as many people with serious mental illnesses are in jails and prisons than in state mental hospitals, according to a survey of states by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

Diversion out of jails and into treatment is a goal for both NAMI at the national level and the Southern Oregon chapter.

The issue of appropriate jail use has become a subject of debate as the community considers whether to back Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler’s proposal to build a new 800-bed jail for $170.9 million.

Inmates are regularly released from the current 315-bed jail due to overcrowding.

A larger jail would supposedly provide more room and staff to offer mental health care and drug addiction treatment, officials have said.

A proposal to fund a new jail could go to voters in May 2020.

The burden to provide mental health services in the Jackson County Jail and other county-run jails grew even bigger this year.

In order to settle a lawsuit about long delays in care, the Oregon State Hospital began restricting the number of mentally ill defendants it will accept for aid-and-assist treatment. The move shifted the burden from the state onto jails and county mental health workers who aren’t trained to offer legal advice along with mental health care.

NAMI Southern Oregon previously hosted a presentation about Lane County’s efforts to reduce arrests and help people suffering from mental illness, addiction and homelessness. Law enforcement agencies there and the state provide funding for teams of mental health professionals and medics to do community outreach.

Jackson County has a mobile crisis response team made up of mental health professionals. They aren’t embedded with specific law enforcement agencies, but agencies can call crisis therapists for help with situations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Jackson County Health and Human Services.

The private company that provides physical and mental health care at the Jackson County Jail has two mental health workers. Those workers are aided by Jackson County mental health staff.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.