Veda Carter thought she could protect her son as long as a jail cell was available. For more than 10 years, she tried to find Corey Carter quality, consistent treatment.
Corey had schizophrenia and, sometimes, he struggled with paranoia. The Corey whom Veda knew and loved would start to change. That’s when Veda knew she and Corey needed to make the 100-mile drive from Valliant, a small town in southeast Oklahoma, to McAlester.
There, Veda would beg the staff at Carl Albert Community Mental Health Center to give her son an inpatient crisis bed.
Repeatedly, she was told that, because Corey wasn’t a danger to himself or others, he didn’t meet the criteria to be admitted against his will for treatment.
So Veda developed a Plan B, a plan she still feels guilty about today. She would call police and tell them that Corey was trying to hurt her or another family member. When Corey drove her car, she would tell police that he had stolen it. And the police would come, knowing Corey’s mental health history, and take him to jail.
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“He would go in the jail because that was the only way ... we could get him some help, because a lot of times, they would say, ‘Well, he’s not trying to harm anybody, he’s not a danger to himself or anything like that,’” Veda, 58, said.
“It’s sad to say, at times, we would have to come up with one of the things that would fit the criteria, like, ‘He’s being mean,’ ‘He hit his sister,’ just to get them to get him some help.”
"Society cannot ignore this problem,
The failed system killed Corey, and Commissioner Costello
But this plan to help Corey failed, too. Corey died in the McCurtain County jail last February. His death is a tragic symptom of a broken mental health system that hasn’t ever fully served the people who need it.
Years ago, when Oklahoma closed its large psychiatric hospitals, the state inadvertently turned patients into inmates.
For decades, Oklahoma has spent among the least in the nation on its mental health system. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of adults with serious mental illnesses. Only one of three Oklahomans who need treatment receives it.
Oklahoma has, instead, chosen to spend its dollars on the least effective, costliest form of “treatment” — the criminal justice system.