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.
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.
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.