Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said this week that his office “made mistakes” by prosecuting some mentally ill homeless people accused of low-level crimes, and pledged to instate policies that “roll back the punitive sanctions” employed at times by his agency.
In an interview Tuesday at his office in the county courthouse, Underhill said wrongheaded decisions to pursue those cases came as his agency made “miscalculations” in its position that pursuing convictions would help mentally ill people get treatment.
That is often not the case, as The Oregonian/OregonLive reported in an investigation published in January. It showed how mentally ill homeless people charged with low-end crimes get locked up in Oregon’s jails and state mental hospital for extended periods at great public expense, with little benefit to those individuals or society.
The process – where mentally ill arrestees are sent to the Oregon State Hospital for treatment until deemed able to assist their defense – costs taxpayers as much as $35 million a year, the news organization found. People accused of misdemeanors who fall into that system often end up confined for far longer than a person convicted of those crimes would spend in jail, the investigation showed.
Oregon’s elected prosecutors play a central role in that procedure as they hold the power to decide whether to file charges and seek convictions for low-level crimes, including those committed by homeless people or those with mental illness. Those defendants may commit crimes such as trespassing, disorderly conduct or using the bathroom in public by virtue of their mental state or lack of housing.Read More (Offsite)