County Jails are for dangerous people. That's why it's a terrible solution for seriously ill people. Elliot Williams was a fine American man. He served in our military and stayed out of trouble. He was a devoted father. His family was just awarded a $10 million dollar judgment for perhaps the cruelest torture ever applied to an Oklahoman.
He got sick, and he got punished severely for it.
Unlike other illnesses, his brain got sick. Diabetes is an imbalance of the pancreas. Folks take meds to correct that, and they get well. But when the brain chemistry gets imbalanced, it impacts all neurological functions, including behavior, mood, and even our sense of reality.
Williams displayed severe symptoms. When that made him unmanagable, his family moved him to a local hotel.
The Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health is a local state-run mental health facility designed for situations like this, but the State Commissioner of Mental Health, Terry White, severely scaled back operations and the facility is perpetually full. Law enforcement often doesn't even ask them if there is an opening.
Again, cops inside the jail and on the beat are trained to spot bad people and deal harshly with them. Sadly too many cops with incomplete training then seem to spot bad people even when 'bad' is not present.
If my child flings his dinner plate across the room and all over the rug, There will be an appropriate publishment.
But if my child vomits that same food all over the room and has a 100 degree temp, then immediate medical assistance and all the doting comfort of the family is ministered. The person is sick, not bad!
Now we are all paying for our 'tough on crime' mentality. We elect the toughest politicians who set policy and run agencies. We have staff who are not properly trained and they abuse the vulnerable. We have supervisors who are bigoted and abusive of folks who look or act differently.
The Tulsa Sheriff's office knew they screwed up badly. They knew it almost immediately after the undertaker took the corpse from the building. They began assessing the need and went directly to the voters of the county to get a sufficient facility. The voters passed a $15 million mental health facility on site. I have been at the jail weekly to help train detention officers & deputies in Crisis Intervention Training. I began traveling to the state capitol to address the severe lack of mental health facilities to divert jail incarceration of the mentally ill. Sadly, the law enforcement agencies and municipal governments are NOT demanding change in state priorities.
State Dereliction of Duty:
It is the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) who diverted a shrinking state budget so that there are only 5% of the public beds that we had 25 years ago. The Eastern State Hospital at Vinita once had 2600 beds. It is completely closed, and most of the rest of the state mental hospitals are closed or severely scaled back. Corporate subcontractors now recieve most of the state budget for mental health. They do not have to take patients of the hands of cops or judges. White now rents out the old campuses that taxpayers built to care directly for the ill. The tenants are corporate contractors who are not answerable to cops or judges and do not have to take in individuals whom cops are needing to find a place for.
And that's why Oklahoma's two largest mental health treatment facilities are the county jails of Tulsa and OKC. We have criminalized severe mental illness. Men are incarcerated at 900% the rate of women, even though mental illness afflicts both sexes equally. Cops just view men as dangerous predators more often than women.
So Tulsa County taxpayers just spent $15 million on a jail mental health cell block, and will pay $10 million to Elliott Williams' family for the torture he died from. But ODMHSAS is partly to blame for the abuse of the mentally ill because they turned their back on the severe need for a larger state-run capacity to take in dangerously ill people. Former state senator, Brian Crain explained it to mental health advocates this way; "Whenever the senate talks about a cut to ODMHSAS, Commissioner White says, 'Okay, that will be this many beds cut'. And she does just that."
But in the last 5 years she has sent a budget proposal to the legislature, explaining what she needs to continue current services, plus she adds a request for additional department initiatives. this year she asked for $200 million in new spending on new programs.
But White has not asked a dime for restoring state-run beds in the last 5 years! It is not a priority, but it desperately needs to be! Civil rights are being abused. People are dying at the hands of cops. Law enforcement desperately needs these ill people taken of their hands!
Senator Joe Newhouse is calling for a 'line item' in the ODMHSAS budget to fund a significant increase in state-run facilities for the mentally ill in acute crisis. It is time the legislature joins him in saving our city and county law enforcement budgets and saving our most vulnerable, the mentally ill.