Friday, March 28, 2014

Oklahoma Scores a 'D', in State Mental Health Leadership

  In 2008, NAMI conducted their 2nd national study and grading of the several states' effort to bring relief for mental illness. Oklahoma was among the 6 top states for levels of improvement in state mental health resources. The Oklahoma legislators gave themselves a "pat on the back" for being the heroes of the afflicted.

  But since that study was published, in 2009, a sad legacy of neglect has hit the sooner state, and the capitol building has a cloud of collective shame settling in.

  Every state felt the effects of the 2008 economic crash. Yet the Sooner State leadership used this excuse to cut mental health resources by a higher percent that 35 other states. 

  Even without taking inflation into account, Oklahoma cut mental health resources by 5.9%. When you  factor inflation, the cut becomes more than 12% over the 3 years of 2010-2012. When you factor in the medical inflation rate, the cuts are absolutely devastating. If not for some promising new legislative initiatives, Oklahoma could not justify any claim to a passing grade. 'D' is the best grade that Oklahoma's state government can mercifully be granted, in my best judgment.

 “It’s going to cost us,” said Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, who’s heading a House study on how the state should handle the growing inmate population. In 2014, Blackwell estimates;  "the state will need an additional $25 to $30 million in next year’s budget just to address overcrowding at corrections facilities.". And this is just for inmates of state-run correctional facilities. The 77 county jails and municipal detention facilities have borne an even greater financial hit. 

  Is there a connection between the mental health neglect and the ballooning costs of incarceration? Absolutely! The Oklahoma prison population began an astronomical climb in 2011. The mental health funding was cut at the beginning of the previous year. Only Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have a higher rate of state incarceration than Oklahoma. Why do conservative administrations so foolishly spend so much more money on incarceration as a 'cure-all' for people we find inconvenient to care for?

  When will relief come? It will come as soon as preventative and crisis resources are available and utilized. But the prison budgets will still be with us, unless judges or parole boards also tap into treatment alternatives.
sadly, we will have to fund prisons and full mental health resources at higher levels, until the intervention treatment begins to change the prison populations. But Oklahoma currently incarcerates at a higher percent than any other American state.

  Mentally ill people are not criminal. Criminality requires criminal intent. An ill person's delusions and desperation are a greater punishment than jail cells, but the harm caused by delusional acts are still difficult for a society who is looking for someone to punish. A society has a moral right to demand accountability in the stabilization of an ill person whose behavior has harmed others. To this end, Oklahoma's senate has passed an Assisted Outpatient Therapy bill which would mandate accountability of such individuals. The threat of incarceration may serve as an excellent deterrent, for the benefit of all of us.

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