Swimming Upstream to Solve Problems at the County Jails

By David Van Risseghem

  The Mental Health Association Of Tulsa Has Entered The Debate On The Tulsa Jail Bond Politics. Executive Director, Michael Brose Addresses His Complex Response To The Jail Bond Vote.

   Like Michael,   many of us who serve in leadership for mental health advocacy are sorting out conflicting concerns about mental health treatment, and the format in which it is being delivered; or not delivered.    I am the President-elect of NAMI Tulsa. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the largest advocacy organization for mental health issues. Our organization has not endorsed either side of the upcoming bond election, in Tulsa County. I happen to personally oppose the current jail bond and several others in NAMI are also concerned that the jail has encountered "mission creep" into  public mental health through criminalizing people who are experiencing a nervous breakdown.
Mr. Broce's comments (printed in blue) are very insightful and I want his concerns to be further amplified.  I'm going to post Michael's recent letter and give my own comments:
   Unfortunately, sometimes you have to swim upstream
   Over the past few weeks, I've been repeatedly asked about my thoughts regarding the April 1 tax extension vote to expand Tulsa’s David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, and to improve its facilities and treatment for inmates impacted by severe mental illness.
   Mental healthcare is critical care. It needs to be available wherever and whenever it plagues humanity. To neglect it is to endanger the sufferer and every person within that person's sphere of interaction. Most people with mental illness are NOT violent. But life-threatening concerns are always present. As the current trend progresses, one day, someone you love will likely face the criminal charge of being mentally ill.
   Like many issues in search of a simple answer, this question is complex. I do support Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s proposal for several reasons. First, Sheriff Glanz, and deputies who operate the jail, have no control over who is placed in the jail. They have to accept and care for whomever law enforcement charges and brings to the jail. Inmates can only be released if the sheriff receives an order from the court to do so. Second, the sheriff clearly recognizes inmates with severe and untreated mental illness committed crimes they would not have committed if they were receiving the treatment they desperately need in their respective communities.
   This is a very valid point.  The county sheriff houses inmates whom the sheriff has prosecutorial role. He and his deputies are charged with the duty to keep the inmates safe and keep the county safe. He is not responsible for the failures of the state in providing the preferred mental health facilities which many of these sufferers should should be treated at.
   Sheriff Glanz has personally witnessed bad things happening to people who are severely ill, and have been placed in his jail, almost always due to the absence of enough treatment beds in the community. Because of our failure, and the State of Oklahoma’s failure, to fund treatment beds adequately for Northeast Oklahoma, people who are severely mentally ill continue to be placed in his jail. He wants to properly care for them in an area where they are free from being preyed upon in the general population of inmates. The sheriff also wants to have the resources to properly train specialized officers who understand mental illness, and their special needs.
   Sheriff Glanz is personally named as a defendant in wrongful deaths. He does not get to choose the medical staff which treats the inmates. That is the county commissioners' role. He does ultimately answer for the failure of his wardens and staff, when they fail. If their failure results in harm or death, then he cannot pass the blame on lack of resources. If he feels he cannot do his duties correctly, his duty is to resign his role.
   Is the sheriff’s proposal the long-term answer? No.
   Sadly, this is the reality of our refusal to properly fund treatment beds to serve the size and population of Northeast Oklahoma. We need to help the jail properly care for these inmates who live with severe, untreated mental illness at no fault of their own now. At the same time, we must organize all of our combined efforts to insist lawmakers begin investing in people who, if they receive the treatment they need in their own communities, become taxpaying, contributing members of the community. Sixty percent of Mental Health Association in Tulsa employees are doing just that — living in recovery with severe mental illness, because they secured adequate treatment in the community. Many of our employees have histories, and sad stories, of incarceration in jail and in prison. With adequate treatment, they live in recovery, pay taxes, have families, and they are gainfully employed. They are the fortunate ones. Right now, the jail is full of people facing charges because their severe mental illness went untreated and, subsequently, have committed non-violent and often petty crimes. On any given day, 33 percent of inmates in the jail will present with a severe mental illness, according to the Tulsa World’s own Julie DelCour. Simply put, these inmates were unable to secure adequate treatment in their community, and now they are behind bars.
   This is the "heart" of the Oklahoma issue. None of the problems will truly be resolved by a jail bond. In fact, it may take longer to bond and build a jail than for the state to appropriate funds to open treatment centers in existing facilities. Correcting the state funding problem this month, could result in a shrinking jail population in every county of our state, this year! The legislature is now in session. we don't need to wait until the next bond election to fix the problem.
   The Mental Health Association in Tulsa supports the sheriff’s desperate appeal to support the tax extension vote. At the same time, we call on the sheriff, the Tulsa County commissioners, Mayor Dewey Bartlett, the Tulsa City Council members, and the whole of the community, to join forces, regardless of party affiliation, and insist together that Oklahoma lawmakers, and Governor Mary Fallin, invest in Northeast Oklahoma with the community-based treatment and beds we so desperately need. This isn’t about raising taxes. This is about investing in our people. Sadly, sometimes you have to swim upstream.  
   Some folks don't care about treating mental illness, until their loved one becomes stricken within it's hideous grasp. I, and many other mental health advocates urge every Oklahoman to look beyond the jail bond elections and help fix the statewide failure at the state capitol.  There are some who are using my arguments only to defeat a county tax increase. I am aware of that.
   If we don't fix this problem right, we will see endless ballooning county bond issues and ever higher expenses in criminal justice funding, at a very wasteful misappropriation of effective treatment and a much worse record of successful recovery.
By Mental Health Association In Tulsa On March 27, 2014 By Michael W. Brose, MSW Executive Director Mental Health Association in Tulsa