Lawmakers have yet to fund county mental health and drug treatment | News

Oklahoma voters sent a message in 2016: stop sending people to prison for misdemeanor drug and property offenses. Direct money saved to counties for mental health and drug treatment.

State lawmakers haven’t gotten the second half of that yet.

Nearly seven years later, not a penny has been invested in the County’s Community Safety Investment Fund, established through the passage of State Question 781 to cover treatment costs in all 77 counties.

That’s where the burden shifted when voters approved State Question 780, reclassifying many drug-related felonies and sending offenders to county jails instead of state prisons.

Instead, lawmakers have been allocating funds to a separate diversion program run by state agencies.

“Instead of allocating dollars to this fund, they allocated it directly to individual agencies or programs that are, I think the word they used was ‘in the spirit of State Question 780,’ related to mental health and things like that, said Caden Cleveland, a spokesman for the state Office of Business Services and Management.

When 58% of voters supported reclassifying low-level crimes and 56% voted to funnel savings to counties for treatment, they were not voting for the spirit of the law, said Damion Shade, executive director of Oklahomans For Criminal Justice Reform.

“It’s totally true to say that they’ve invested in some diversion programs,” Shade said. “The diversion programs they have invested in are not the diversion programs or resources that the voters demanded. It is not.

“That is just a material fact. When they say they are complying with the spirit of the law, that means they are not complying with the letter of the law.”

‘Zero dollars’

One such alternative program is Smart on Crime, which aimed to reduce the cost of incarceration to the state by getting people into treatment programs. There is an important distinction: While addressing mental health and substance abuse issues in state prisons, Smart on Crime does not allocate funds specifically for counties.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s first budget proposed that the Legislature put $10 million into the fund in 2020. State lawmakers never appropriated it. Stitt administration spokeswoman Carly Atchison declined requests for comment from Oklahoma Watch.

The state Office of Business Services and Management was unable to generate a state financial report on the county’s Community Safety Investment Fund, Cleveland said. He said that if he took out the report it would say “zero dollars”.

It took the Legislature nearly five years to work with criminal justice advocates and the state Department of Corrections and agree on how to calculate the savings from voter-approved sentencing changes. State Rep. Justin Humphrey, chairman of the House criminal justice and corrections committee, said unclear language in State Question 780 contributed to the delay.

“I had no expectations of what’s going to happen with all these people,” said Humphrey, R-Lane.

However, Shade said the state’s question was clear in its intent that all 77 counties could have funding for mental health courts, drug courts and sentence diversion programs.

“We don’t want people struggling with addiction behind bars,” Shade said. “We want doctors to get treatment and get better as much as possible.”

The need in the counties

Rural county drug court administrators said they need the funds set forth in state Question 781. Noel Bagwell, executive director of the Payne County Drug Court, said the funds would enhance existing treatment services, such as testing. of drugs.

Even in Oklahoma County, with a drug court graduation rate of more than 80%, staffing levels are dangerously low and funding for housing assistance, indigent drug testing and transportation is underfunded, the U.S. Court Judge said. Oklahoma County Drugs, Kenneth Stoner.

“People have to go to treatment. They have to come to court. They have to go downstairs to take a drug test. So we have to buy a lot of bus passes,” Stoner said. “And frankly, we don’t actually get funding for bus passes. We just have to try to figure out how to help people.”

Said Bagwell, “At the end of the day, we have to be sure that we have done everything possible for our clientele. Funding would make it more possible.

Robert Hicks graduated from the Oklahoma County Drug Court in July. He had been trapped in a cycle of addiction since he was 14 years old and has been incarcerated several times. Now that he is nearing 60, Hicks said his life changed in 2020 after he was pulled over by police while he was driving under the influence of the pills.

“I had my grandson in the car with me when I was pulled over, and I was charged with child endangerment,” Hicks said. “And I thought about what could have happened to him… it just made me see what he had been doing and how many chances I had taken and how many times I had gotten away with it. That was really the straw that broke the camel’s back, and he couldn’t do this anymore.”

Among the 36 bills Humphrey wrote during the 2022 legislative session is one that would require lawmakers to allocate funds to the County’s Community Safety Investment Fund. The bill passed unanimously in the House and was never heard in the Senate.

However, after drafting House Bill 3294, Humphreys said he was surprised to learn some money had been set aside. He is organizing an interim study this fall in hopes of learning more.

“The hope is that we stop talking, and actually develop a bill…so I would say create real legislation that results in real action to change our entire criminal justice system and start working on community corrections, discipline progressive, factual data and accountability with actions toward criminal behavior and substance abuse behavior,” Humphrey said.

Oklahoma Watch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation whose mission is to produce insightful, investigative journalism on public policy and quality of life issues facing the state.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.