Skip to main content

Injunction Against State Hospital Could Have Far-Reaching Implications

A federal judge opens new legal can of worms for State Hospital, ruling the facility must admit guilty-except-for-insanity defendants despite objections.
Large red building, the Oregon State Hospital
Oregon State Hospital in Salem. | BEN BOTKIN/THE LUND REPORT
November 15, 2021

A federal judge ordered Oregon State Hospital to immediately admit two patients for treatment who were being held in jail while they waited for months for admittance, saying their rights were violated.

The ruling is just the latest to find that overcrowding at the facility is leading to constitutional violations. And it follows two previous judicial findings of contempt of court against the state over the treatment of the same two prisoners.

It suggests that the state’s current legal quandary over aid-and-assist cases — who are required to be admitted within seven days — could now be extended to prisoners who are found guilty except for insanity.

The judge’s ruling came over a lawsuit filed Nov. 9 in Oregon U.S. District Court by Jarod Bowman and Joshawn Douglas-Simpson. Filed by attorney Ethan Levi, the suit noted that the earlier this year Multnomah Circuit Judge Nan Waller found the two men “guilty except for insanity” and ordered Bowman and Douglas-Simpson — in March and May, respectively — to be transported “without unreasonable delay” from the Multnomah County Detention Center to the Oregon State Hospital for care and treatment.

Waller then issued successive contempt rulings against the state in September and October for ignoring her ruling.

The state is contending that it can’t admit the two prisoners due to a federal court ruling ordering the facility to admit aid-and-assist patients — those in need of care so they can assist in their own defense in criminal court. State lawyers contended the federal ruling requires them to prioritize aid-and-assist patients over guilty-except-for-insanity defendants.

On Nov. 15, however, Oregon U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez said the state’s representation is just not true.

“That is false,” he wrote, adding that the earlier federal injunction concerning aid-and-assist patients “does not address the relative priority of aid-and-assist patients and GEI (guilty except for insanity) patients.”

“If OSH cannot admit GEI patients while admitting aid-and-assist patients within the court-ordered timeframe, it’s because OSH lacks the space and the funding to do so — not because the (federal) order compels it to prioritize one group over another. In other words, any prioritization stems from Defendant’s failure to provide the funds, staff, and facilities necessary to satisfy the constitutional rights of both groups. When satisfying constitutional guarantees, Defendants cannot rob Peter to pay Paul.” While the state had asked Hernandez to wait until the Bowman case could be merged with the earlier aid-and-assist case, Hernandez opined that the state “offers no reason for the Court to ignore the ongoing violations of Plaintiffs’ rights currently before the Court.

“Because they remain in the MCDC, Plaintiffs remain incarcerated — and are thus being punished without being convicted — and they do not receive any restorative treatment,” Henandez wrote. “Defendants likely violate the substantive due process rights of Plaintiffs when they refuse to admit them in a timely manner. And lack of space or funding is no excuse.”

Oregon State Hospital has faced intensive scrutiny in recent months over its staffing shortage, with employees leveling charges of inadequate patient care and chaotic transfers of patents among units. 

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen has submitted a proposal to Oregon lawmakers that would allow the state hospital to hire another 359 employees starting in March and convert another 134 unbudgeted positions into permanent positions. That would increase the permanent workforce’s size by nearly 500 staff and cost $33.5 million in the 2021-2023 budget cycle. If approved, it would cost an estimated $63.2 million in the 2023-2025 budget cycle. 

You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @NickBudnick.