HILLSBORO, Ore.- The Washington County District Attorney’s Office is leading a program aimed at increasing the efficiency of the fitness to proceed process. The program will reduce the pre-trial jail time for defendants with mental health disorders.  Along with our partners including the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Circuit Court, Washington County defense bar, Washington County Behavioral Health Department, NW Forensic Institute, and Lithia Forensics & Consulting, we have launched the Washington County Rapid Fitness to Proceed Program.

Under Oregon law, when the court has reason to doubt a defendant’s fitness to proceed by reason of incapacity due to a qualifying mental disorder, the court may order an examination to determine whether the defendant is unable to understand the nature of the proceedings, assist and cooperate with their attorney, or participate in the defense.  Commonly referred to as an “Aid and Assist,” “Fitness to Proceed” or competency evaluation, this process can take months to complete, which creates costly delays and inefficiencies.  Under the Rapid Fitness to Proceed Program, the timeline has been reduced from months to weeks.  This increased efficiency benefits all participants as defendants arrested for lower-level crimes will spend less time in jail pre-trial, thereby freeing up limited jail space for more dangerous offenders. It also increases the efficiency of the courts and provides cost savings for the entire public safety system in Washington County.

“I am excited about the prospect of increasing the efficiency of our Fitness to Proceed process,” said District Attorney Kevin Barton.  “This program is a great example of our Washington County public safety system partners working together to develop creative solutions that benefit the entire system.”

The Rapid Fitness to Proceed Program accomplishes this increased efficiency by establishing partnerships with two private practices that specialize in forensic competency to stand trial evaluations, NW Forensic Institute and Lithia Forensics and Consulting. These certified forensic evaluators are trusted by the defense and the state.  In fact, in some situations, these private evaluators also work on contract for the Oregon State Hospital to provide competency evaluations. Using this public-private partnership, expedited evaluations are typically produced within 12 days from the date the referral is accepted.  

“Prior to the Rapid program many defendants, even those appropriate for community treatment, sat in jail and their criminal cases were put on hold for about 60 days while the parties waited for a competency evaluation. During that time, their cases weren’t moving forward, and the defendants weren’t receiving mental health services necessary to restore their competency. The Rapid program speeds that timeline up significantly which resolves cases faster, gets defendants into appropriate treatment faster, and saves jail beds for more dangerous offenders.”

The program also establishes a team of representatives from each of the partner organizations to evaluate and prioritize Rapid evaluations for defendants who would be good candidates for community restoration. This team also works with the presiding judge and her staff to facilitate fast turnarounds on court orders and hearings.

To learn more about this program and to access a referral form needed to initiate an evaluation, visit our website.

July 29, 2020