Multnomah County
District Attorney

1200 SW 1st Avenue, Suite 5200
Portland, OR 97204

Multnomah County District Attorney

1200 SW 1st Avenue, Suite 5200
| Portland, OR 97204
| 503-988-3162

Mental health illness and the criminal justice system

If you are involved in a life threatening emergency that requires police and/or medical assistance, dial 9-1-1 and inform the dispatcher this is an immediate mental health issue.

As part of World Mental Health Day and Mental Illness Awareness Week, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is proud to support a campaign launched by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to #CureStigma. According to NAMI, one in five Americans is affected by mental health conditions.

“Mental health issues are very real in our society. The District Attorney’s Office and court are doing everything we can to recognize this and to make sure people are getting access to the resources that are available. We’re also ensuring that everyone coming through the criminal justice system is being treated fairly,” said Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Ashly Crockett.

DDA Crockett serves as the Mental Health Deputy District Attorney for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

“In my position, I’m dealing with the intersection of the criminal justice system and people experiencing mental health issues,” Crockett said. “The sooner mental health issues are recognized in a criminal case and addressed the more support someone can receive.”

Crockett said understanding mental illness and recognizing the hardships people involved have is critically important when those individuals become involved in the criminal justice system.

“Mental health issues don’t just go away on their own. They’re real and they provide real challenges for people in their lives,” Crockett said. “Being able to get support and being able to have access to resources is key for someone to be able to manage their mental health issues and be successful in life.”

The District Attorney’s Office remains committed to developing a strong and comprehensive response plan to reduce criminal activity committed by persons experiencing mental health illness. This is accomplished by working collaboratively with local service providers, the court, Multnomah County Parole and Probation, criminal defense attorneys and law enforcement.

As the Mental Health Deputy for the DA’s Office, Crockett handles many of the mental health matters that can come up during a criminal case. Her duties also encompass the aid and assist docket and civil commitment hearings.

When a judge determines there are concerns with someone’s ability to aid and assist that person could be sent to the Oregon State Hospital where they receive treatment. Depending on the finding of someone’s ability to aid and assist, the State may request additional treatment, recommend community restoration or potentially dismiss the case.

Crockett is deeply involved with the Multnomah County Mental Health Court program where participants are on probation that is highly focused on mental health treatment. As a condition of the probation, individuals could be offered an opportunity to participate in the Mental Health Court program. It takes a minimum of one year to complete Mental Health Court. Successful participants are often able to shorten the length of their probationary period. Participants are expected to meet regularly with their assigned monitor, to take all prescribed medication, pay restitution to victims, keep all appointments with service providers, and obey all laws.

“We’re looking at ways to reduce recidivism and to provide more resources and support for individuals in our community who are experiencing mental illness,” Crockett said.

To read more about the Mental Health Court program, please click here.

“Many of the Mental Health Court participants have struggled with homelessness. We work hard to ensure that everyone is housed or at least has access to housing. We know that getting someone housed can eventually result in regular access to medication and care. That creates a foundation of stability that potentially allows them to achieve the greatest stability they’ve ever had in their adult lives,” Crockett said.

When possible and appropriate, the District Attorney’s Office will divert individuals experiencing mental illness from jail or prison to community-based resources. This can help reduce the large financial implications of holding someone in custody, reduce recidivism, and provide more effective mental health treatment for the individual in need.

“We work really hard to help people get to a better place. That process involves long-term planning to address any drug and alcohol issues,” Crockett said.

In Oregon, approximately 136,000 adults reported they had serious thoughts of suicide, according to data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHSA). The data, which was released in 2017 but collected from 2011 through 2015, also revealed that only 47.6% of adults in Oregon with any mental illness received mental health services.

“We do not criminalize mental illness but when someone experiences a mental health related illness and commits a crime we must examine public safety and identify the most appropriate outcomes for the individual and community,” Crockett said.

She applauded the work being done in Multnomah County, particularly the efforts of Judge Nan Waller, the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, non-profit community partners and the District Attorney’s Office as they all look to identify best practices in this area. This work makes the county standout as a leader at understanding how the criminal justice system intersects with mental health.

Multnomah County Mental Health Crisis Line: (503) 988-4888

Contact: Brent Weisberg, Communications Director

Phone: 503.988.6567