Monday, May 4, 2015

Thousands Of Oklahomans Arrested For Getting Sick

The state's two biggest mental health facilities are two county jails in Tulsa and Oklahoma City

  Oklahoma's lawmakers have forced county and municipal law enforcement to incarcerate massive numbers of sickly Oklahomans on charges such as disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and public intoxication.

  In reality, those makeshift criminals are simply our mentally ill neighbors, relatives, and coworkers.

The interior of a 21st-century Oklahoma hospital for mental health
  When the legislature in 2000, closed the massive state hospital in Vinita (Eastern State Hospital), they saved the state a massive amount of money. But they also boarded up a 2600-bed capacity. They promised to replace the mental health hospital with a vast network of local treatment centers in several strategic locations around the state. But only a handful of state-run facilities were ever opened.
  Now, when an Oklahoman suffers a severe mental breakdown, and law enforcement is summoned to a call, the officer has no real option for taking in a citizen for a mental health evaluation, because there is no place in the state with a bed available. The officer cannot leave a scene where danger still exists (a delusional person may be demonstrating a potential harm to himself and/or others) So in order to keep up with the backlog in police dispatchers' calls; the officer typically books the individual into the county jail for the sake of maintaining peace in the community.
Oklahoma's state mental health facilities are
perpetually full and the legislature has failed
to open the rest of the locations that were
planned when they closed the Vinita campus

  If a mental health facility was available, the individual would be able to take a medical leave from his job and potentially be evaluated, stabilized, diagnosed, and provided a treatment plan for recovery. They typically move to outpatient status within a week or two, and back to work shortly after. It's very difficult, but far easier than spending 30-60 days incarcerated in the county jail.
  If the suffering individual does go to jail for demonstrating mental instability, the public does have a reprieve, but the individual's life may never recover. He loses his job because he cannot take a medical leave for a jail sentence. His kids may be placed in DHS foster care. He has a court date, but will spend his most difficult and confused weeks in the least compassionate environment that our society could invent for him.
  All existing govt. assistance is cancelled. Even the ObamaCare federal insurance assistance gets cancelled, so that when he does get out of jail, he no longer has any medical care.
The Counties of Oklahoma are all building new "bigger and better" jails with huge mental illness units. This is the legacy of how far we've deteriorated as a society. We have criminalized sickness and punished our ailing neighbors.
  Taxpayers in most of Oklahoma's 77 counties are paying far higher effective taxes for the criminalization of mental illness. Jail cells cost more than treatment center beds. District Attorney staff costs more than medical staff. Jail warden's staff cost more than treatment center staff. And New jails cost more than the treatment centers, themselves.
  Our legislators fear they will be thrown out by the voters if they increase state spending, but instead, they have, by omission, spent far more in municipal, county, and court budgets.
The two largest state mental health treatment centers in Oklahoma are:
  • Oklahoma County Jail
  • Tulsa County Jail

Is this acceptable? Is this humane? Is this effective?

  Recovery from severe mental illness is a big challenge.There is no real substitute for supportive family and loved ones. But when the state isolates a confused and suffering person from those who care the most, the outlook for success is greatly diminished. When we get a person fired from his job and lock him up with criminals for a month or more, how can he get back on his feet? In all likelihood the suffering individual will then perpetually be added to our welfare rolls and may continually be a broken man.
  I use the neutral pronoun to describe "him"; but in reality, women have a statistical edge over men for reported cases of mental illness, if for no other reason than that many women suffer postpartum depression after childbirth.  Recently, more men have been added to our rolls as the veterans struggle to return to civilian life after multiple deployments in war zones.
  It may be that the most fiscal conservatives in the state capitol are the lawmakers who restore our promise to rebuild our state mental health network.

Lawmakers who restore the mental health network will:

  • save the local taxpayer far more money than what criminal justice currently costs us
  • keep more families intact
  • retain more productive workers employed
  • keep more kids out of fostercare
  • maybe even provide a safety net for lawmaker's own family(if the scourge of mental illness visits his family or even himself)
  Our mental health courts are a part of the state legal system. If a judge needs to order someone into treatment, the court needs to provide the facility. So only the state can effectively provide the solution.
  The only worse public policy than Oklahoma's criminalization of illness is the Nazi solution of 1940. They used ovens and gas chambers to remove the disabled from society.

David Van Risseghem

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