A New Day At the Tulsa Jail

by David van Risseghem 
Tulsa I've been very busy the past few weeks. As well as being an activist and journalist, I am an advocate for a better public policy on mental illness. It is a huge issue with massive needs. But we measure success in baby steps. The Tulsa County Jail's new mental health unit is one of those baby steps.
  As a member of NAMI Tulsa, I reached out to Sheriff Regalado and his medical staff(Turnkey) about the matter and we offered help. They finally completed the state-of-the-art mental health pods and the new medical services contractor has set up operations. 
  Richardo Vaca is the lead detention officer for the mental health unit. Former interim sheriff, Michelle Robinette is the new director of mental health. They asked our trained intructors to assist them in training their new cadets and select current officers in a program called Crisis Intervention Training. We currently provide this help to various law enforcement personel, statewide. But detention officers rarely recieve this insightful instruction.
  A big part of what we provide is insight after-the-fact from individuals and their family members, about what went wrong(or right) during their psychotic break. We talk openly about the PTSD caused by law enforcement conflict during a mental meltdown, and how to safely avoid injury or death; and how to speed up recovery through proactive measures.
Former interim Tulsa County Sheriff, Michelle Robinette, welcomes Cathy Costello to a tour of the new mental health pods. Costello's son is mentally ill and currently incarcerated at another Oklahoma facility.
Sen. Joe Newhouse calls for major mental health reforms, as Rep. McEachin and sen. Rader listen.
  The problem is made far worse because the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse has systematically shut down almost all the state hospitals and is spending their budget through corporate contractors. That's a huge problem for cops and courts. Whereas a cop could have taken an unstable person to a mental hospital for an evaluation and potential intervention, there now exists a perpetual waiting list for the mentally ill to get any care in this way.
  A Cop can't wait, so he books the delusional person into jail on some victimless pretext and moves on to the next call from the dispatcher. A full 35% of the inmates in the Tulsa jail are currently diagnosed with a serious mental illness and receiving treatment. Men are abused this way at 10 times the rate of women, even though mental illness strikes both sexes at a similar rate. The fact is that society is afraid of the mentally ill. They are statistically no more violent than the population at-large, but they are far more vulnerable to abuse and being generally victimized than the general public.

  There will always be real criminals in our jails who need effective mental health treatment. It may be the only means of providing lasting safety for everyone in the jail. But their are massive numbers of ill people who never should have been put there. 
  It is the ignorant actions of sincere peace officers which often causes these unnecessary incarcerations. Good cops are trained to deal with bad dudes. They are trained to use overwhelming force until compliance is attained. But for the delusional psychotic, this is the most harmful means of attaining compliance. It leads to most likely a worsening of the mental illness, injury, or death. A Tulsa jury is currently deciding how much damages to award the estate of Elliot Williams. Elliot died of starvation & dehydration because the staffs of the Tulsa jail assumed he was faking a paralysis. They deliberately put his food & water just out of his reach as he lay naked on a cold concrete floor for 3 days. He got arrested for a severe mental illness, at an Owasso hotel. His paralysis stems from an altercation while bringing him into the jail.
  The Tulsa County Jail's new mental health cell block is still very much a local prison. But it meets federal and state standards for providing care to the suicidal & mentally ill. This means the county doesn't have to send the suicidal inmate to a hospital at the sheriff's expense. The lifesaving care and monitoring can be done within phase 1 (6 individual cell rooms) of the first pod. The psychiatrist and psychologist are officing within the same pod. nurses are on duty '24/7'. All the CIT detention officers are trained to identify and respond to indicators and be a part of the treatment team.  The whole pod which houses the first 3 phases is full of sunlight from the high vaulted cieling where massive windows flood the building with sunlight all day long.
As the person moves past the suicidal risk, they are given another short transfer to one of the 10 phase-2 private cell rooms for further evaluation and progress. If their personal conduct meets criteria, they may move quickly to phase 3 and open interaction with others in similar stabilization. Each person in phase 3 has a separate room with a bed & toilet, but they spend their days in the common area just outside that room, where the detention officers allow constructive inmate activities and peer support. At night they are in their own locked cells so that even if one inmate is emotionally unstable, the others can continue getting therapeutic circadian balancing (which is essential to stabilizing mood disorders). these people need more focused attention while their treatment is still not significantly established.
PictureGrand Lake Mental Health's New Ipad telemedicine innovation allows preventative support to those leaving a mental health environment and seeking to live independently. It gives instant access to mental health support.
  When the patient's stability reaches acceptable standards, they are moved to a 2nd pod where phase 4 is housed. This unit has open barrack-style housing. nearly 100 mentally ill inmates can be housed here. Again, lighting is plentiful from large high windows All the walls are painted a light blue which emotionally supports a peaceful disposition. The patients are housed here until their mental illness is effectively brought to a manageable state and they can be moved into the general population at the other pods.

  Here's a recent news story about the Crisis Intervention training. You can help by asking your legislator to insist on providing law enforcement with an alternatives to incarceration. State mental hospitals need to be restored, so people can get well and the public can be spared the high cost of incarceration. Senator Joe Newhouse has called for line-item budgeting of public mental health beds run by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, so cops and courts can avoid the more expense costs of incarceration. Sick people hare having their civil rights unjustly stolen from them by desperate law enforcement agencies, seeking to restore peace in our communities.
  There are other innovations, also. The Individuals are spared a police record (provided there are no victims), if they stay in the crisis center. They can be forcebly ordered there for up to 24 hours while a psychiatric solution is being sought. But if the person volunteers to stay, they can hold them for 5 days while treatment is given to stabilize the underlying contributors to their instability.  This has saved police departments several thousands of dollars. When the individual is ready to leave the outpatient facility, a specially formated i-pad is assigned to them. It only functions as a tele-medicine device so the individual can instantly speak to a case worker, therapist, or medical professional. The ipad has a tracker and uses mobile data connections. The Grand Lake Mental Health network is a nonprofit corporation which receives state funding from ODMHSAS. This doesn't prevent all incarcerations, but it is effective in many cases.