Federal judge orders Oregon State Hospital to admit 2 people stuck in jail for months

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Nov. 15, 2021 8:33 p.m. Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 1:23 a.m.

As of last month, more than two dozen people found guilty except for insanity were in local jails waiting admission.

A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order Monday that directed the Oregon State Hospital to admit two mentally ill people who have remained imprisoned in the Multnomah County Detention Center for months, despite previous court orders and fines.

U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez said the men must be admitted to the state’s largest psychiatric facility within the next seven days.


Earlier this year, the men were found guilty except for insanity for crimes and a circuit court judge ordered them to the hospital to serve their sentences. But the hospital would not admit the men, despite numerous order, contempt rulings and fines that exceeded $100,000.

“Without a temporary restraining order, Plaintiffs will continue to be unconstitutionally jailed,“ Hernandez wrote in his order. “The deprivation of any constitutional right is alone sufficient to establish irreparable harm, and this harm is especially acute where a person is incarcerated in violation of his or her constitutional rights.”

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore., is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore., is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

Bryan M. Vance / OPB


Even before the pandemic, the Oregon State Hospital has struggled with admissions. Staffing challenges arose during the pandemic that have worsened the issue.

The admissions delays for people found guilty except for insanity are a problem statewide.

As of late last month, 26 people found guilty except for insanity were waiting in jails for admission to the hospital, according to an Oct. 27 document filed by the state in a separate federal court case.

At that time, 19 people had been waiting for more than 100 days. One person in Jackson County had been waiting 283 days, according to the document.

“Our clients have remained in the county jail without mental health treatment for between six and nine months,” said Ethan Levi, one of the attorneys for the men in the Multnomah County jail. “We are hopeful that this federal temporary restraining order will finally compel the defendants to admit our clients to the state hospital where they can get the treatment they need.”

In a statement, hospital spokeswoman Aria Seligmann acknowledged it has a limited number of beds and receives more patient referrals than it has the capacity to treat.

“Many of the people referred do not need extended hospital level of care but remain at the hospital longer than needed because their home counties lack sufficient treatment options,” Seligmann wrote. “The Oregon State Hospital cannot build and staff enough beds to solve the problem. The solution is for our partners to work together to expand beds and treatment services in the community and preserve the state’s limited hospital capacity for people who need hospital-level care.”