County Budgets Pay the Price For State Govt. Failure
Jails are trying to become mental hospitals
Perhaps the most glaring example of legislative failure, in Oklahoma, is illustrated by the terrible abuse of the county jail. Tulsa’s jail is taking on a role that is was never designed for – nor should it be! County jails are supposed to serve to protect society from criminals. But they are now the #1 & #2 mental health treatment centers in Oklahoma.
Because the state has failed terribly, to replace the now-closed Eastern State Mental Hospital, in Vinita,
OK.; law enforcement cannot exercise the prudent discretion to bring a mentally unstable individual to a psychiatric facility for a court-ordered assessment and follow-up treatment. Because these individuals are perceived a danger to themselves and/or others, the officers have created a make-shift class of criminals out of them.
Counties Struggle To fund state failures
Over 15 years ago, the Oklahoma legislative leaders determined that the 2600-bed mental hospital in Vinita needed to be replaced with a network of community mental health centers. This required a multi-year plan and discipline to avoid “raiding” these funds for other pet projects like Indian Museums and Passenger Rail service. Some in the senate warned us that Oklahoma would fall into this terrible situation by not building the new network ahead of Vinita’s final closure.
To the discredit of all the state’s leadership, only one new community mental health facility was added, and it was done “on the cheap” by acquiring the outdated and unsafe Doctors Hospital of Tulsa
. The facility was faulty in design and short-sighted in oversight, but it was thrown together quickly. Even if the legislature authorizes five more community mental health in the next 3 years, Oklahoma will still operate at well below the capacity which the Vinita facility had.
As bad as Vinita had become, it was more humane.
Perhaps the biggest medical expenditure at county jails have to do with the dozens or perhaps hundreds of mentally ill inmates. Tulsa County is constantly seeking to squeeze this ballooning expense. This has led to even more expenses, due to lawsuits because mentally ill people are dying from the terrible failures of inept medical staff and poorly-trained wardens. Some are characterizing Tulsa’s medical contractor, Correctional Treatment Companies, of what amounts to assisted suicide of the mentally ill. KJRH TV posted an article about this problem (formerly/https://www.kjrh.com/news/local-news/tulsa-co-jail-healthcare-provider-facing-multiple-lawsuits-across-the-country-alleging-mistreatment).
The Tulsa jail
like they are assisting suicide for the mentally ill
But Tulsa County’s commissioners are silent about the state failures which have led to massive new expenses to the counties. Instead, they are eagerly pushing to expand county government and even more massive jail compounds with expanded roles in public mental health. Perhaps if the County Commissioners spent as much effort in lobbying the legislature as the teachers and tea party are, we’d not need to burden the county taxpayers with more wasteful funding of mental health jails.
The costs are much greater than just higher taxes. The more we incarcerate folks with mental breakdowns, the expense to provide foster care for children blows up as a result. Folks who could have responded well to medication and resumed their roles at home and work within a couple weeks, usually face a much longer sentence as an inmate. A person who could have taken a medical leave-of-absence and kept their job; probably lost it because he’s now an inmate with a police record.
This Tulsa County citizen died of starvation & dehydration over 3 days, while Tulsa County jail staff watched and did nothing!
Perhaps the best thing voters can do for their community is to force the county commissioners to lobby the state legislature and governor for a real solution and a fresh commitment to the Vinita transition they promised us many years ago.
If even half of the mentally ill inmates would have had an option of court-ordered mental healthcare, there would be no new jail bond elections, far less lawsuits from gross mistreatment of ill people, more families intact, less unemployment, far lower county criminal justice expenses (jail, court costs, & prosecutor), and our society would reflect a more humane compassion for those victimized by the cruel scourge of a mental illness. Our “crime rate” statistics would diminish and our state will be far more attractive to new industry. Then maybe we can talk about funding more Indian museums and passenger rail service.
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