By On January 15th, 2014

A “Crazy” Shift in Our County Jails –Thoughts

Hands on Prison BarsTulsa County Oklahoma leaders have scheduled six town hall meetings over the next few weeks to discuss a new referendum on expanding their severely overcrowded county jail.  Why?  The major cause is the lack of mental health facilities and underfunded mental health programs.  According to a statement released by Sheriff Stanley Glanz, the Tulsa County Jail currently houses 2,500 inmates with only 1700 available beds.  Among the current jail population are 400 people requiring psychotropic medications and mental health services.  He also reported that the jail housed over 6400 inmates with mental health issues, of which over 4300 were on psychiatric medications, during the first six months of 2013.

In October of 2013, the US Supreme Court rejected a request from the Governor of California to stay the orders of a three judge panel, addressing a long legal battle over prison overcrowding deemed so severe it has deprived inmates of adequate medical and mental health care.  The governor’s realignment plan had already shifted thousands of inmates to county jails, following a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the same panel’s orders to dramatically lower the prison population. Since this ruling, the governor and Legislature recently agreed to try using mental health and drug treatment programs to limit the number of inmates being sent to the state’s prisons for new crimes.

Tulsa County and other local governments in Oklahoma are not the only systems experiencing issues with overcrowding of inmates due to mental health issues.  In another study, from 2000-2006 the State of Oklahoma prisons reported a 289% increase in the number of inmates requiring psychiatric medications.  This increase was linked to a 1998 decision to close state mental health facilities.  A November 2012 report of prisoners in both Federal and State facilities nationwide stated 1/6th (125,000+) of inmates in those institutions were receiving psychiatric medications. Not included in this discussion are emerging studies in regard to traumatic brain injuries (TBI) within prisons and jails.  These reports indicate that 48% to as much as 86% of inmates report they have experienced a TBI event in their lifetime.  In some investigations, just under 30% reported the occurrence of a TBI within a year of the offense that lead to their incarceration.

Based on what has transpired from federal and state level reactions to overcrowding in prisons, it appears that the shift in burden and support for mental health services is migrating to local jails and communities nationwide.  This demands the question, is incarceration becoming the primary mechanism left for a society which has taken away mental health resources?  Furthermore, has replacing the option of treatment for inherent physical and mental health issues forced the legal system into incarcerating people based on other reasons beyond the law? Finally, just how effective is incarceration versus treatment?  What produces better outcomes for a person who is not in a position to understand their situation, punishment or treatment?

2 Responses

  1. I am a criminal defense lawyer in Tulsa Oklahoma and I can verify that jail is no place for proper mental health treatment. As other bloggers have noted: “Several of us with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are very disappointed that the jails are severely misused as mental health treatment centers just because there are no available beds in real psychiatric hospitals in Oklahoma. Dumping these people into a jail population is a horrible and inhumane act. They are far more likely to be further victimized by the real “bad dudes” who do belong behind bars.” http://libertyontap.org/2014/03/12/jail-abuse-tulsa-county-jail-is-not-a-proper-mental-health-treatment-center/

  2. Incarcerating mentally ill people in jail often further traumatizes the mentally ill person. It can cost ten times as much money for a mentally ill person to stay in jail instead of being treated at a community center or mental health care facility. If any other institutions in America were as unsuccessful as our jails and prisons are, we would shut them down tomorrow. Two-thirds of people released from jail re-offend within three years of leaving jail, often with a more serious offense. Jails are revolving doors to nowhere. Jails do not reduce crime. Jails do not provide proper mental health treatment. Despite building a 72 million dollar Tulsa County Jail in 1999, our crime rates have not declined. Jails are failures at rehabilitation and do not reduce crime and do not provide proper mental health care treatment.

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