JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — As the proposal for forming a service district to fund a new Jackson County Jail plods toward voter ballots, a group representing mental health advocates announced this week that it opposes the current proposal.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southern Oregon released a statement on Tuesday outlining its opposition to the new jail service district, which is scheduled to appear on May ballots. The organization says that its primary mission is to advocate for people with mental illnesses.
“We are focused on the decriminalization of mental illness,” said Meesha Blair of the NAMI SO Steering and Advocacy Committees. “The new jail is being promoted as a way to get services to people by incarcerating them and holding them longer; that’s a step backwards.”
The organization said that it also opposed a dedicated silo of funds set aside for the new jail when the region is in dire need of investments toward affordable housing, substance-use treatment, and mental health solutions.
“As long as community members continue to contact NAMI, desperate for their loved-ones to find access to mental health treatment, we cannot condone using such a large amount of taxpayer funds for just one portion of the problem,” Blair said.
“Just last week, two people reached out that their loved ones were in pre-crisis and wanted help to adjust their medications to avoid a relapse, but that they couldn’t get in to see their prescribers for 2-3 months," Blair continued. "By then, it will likely be too late — those folks may have lost the window of opportunity and they may be two of the people contributing to jail overcrowding . . . That is avoidable.”
Despite signaling opposition to the proposal as it stands, NAMI acknowledged that the current jail is both "inadequate and unnecessarily unpleasant" for both inmates and staff. The organization said that would support a new jail if the proposal would allow for other measures, including pre-arrest diversion programs.
"We understand that our law enforcement needs good options to house people who are a danger to our community, and we want to continue working with law enforcement and the county to come up with good solutions,” said Blair.
“We hope to continue our assistance with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and other Mental Health trainings and offering any assistance with Peer and Family support programs and education," she continued. "NAMI has a lot they can do in partnership with our law enforcement and County. We don’t see them as the enemy in any way. We are optimistic that a compromise on a new jail can be reached that will allow us all to follow our respective missions.”
Last year, each of the city governments in Jackson County voted to send the jail service district to voters with the exception of Talent. Sheriff Sickler has said that the proposed 800-bed jail would increase resources for addiction and mental health services.