Sheriff’s Office Wants County to Join National Initiative to Address Mental Illness Among Jail Inmates

August 6, 2015

By Jarell Wade
The Tulsa World

New jail pods are being constructed for inmates with mental illness.

But that’s just the outside. Tulsa Jail officials said Wednesday that now is the time to prepare for efforts on the inside.

Terry Simonson, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, and Tulsa mental health leaders pitched a national county initiative to Tulsa County commissioners, asking them to take part in the effort to be proactive with inmates suffering from mental illness.

The Stepping Up initiative is endorsed by several national organizations to help reduce the number of adults with mental and substance-use disorders in jails, according to a news release.

Mike Brose, executive director of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, said the county’s participation would put the Tulsa Jail in league with hundreds of other communities to work together.

“I think this is a very powerful, symbolic step to take in this initiative,” Brose said.

The request to county commissioners is for a resolution saying Tulsa County is joining the Stepping Up movement.

Simonson said joining the initiative would help the county in getting potential grants from federal sources that recognize the effort.

“There’s possibilities for grant funding,” Simonson said, adding that the U.S. Department of Justice has been involved in the initiative.

As previously reported, about 40 percent of inmates at the Tulsa Jail have a mental illness, and about 2 percent have a serious mental illness.

The Stepping Up initiative includes a number of steps for counties to follow in dealing with mental illness at jails:

  • establish a leadership team
  • collect data and assess Tulsa’s needs
  • examine treatment capacity in Tulsa
  • develop a plan with measurable outcomes
  • implement research-based approaches
  • create a process to track progress

The goal is to minimize contact with the justice system for people with mental illnesses, according to the presentation.

In 2014, voters approved a 15-year, 0.026 percent sales tax to fund the construction and operation of four pods, including one designed for inmates with mental health needs and another for juveniles.

Approved was $9.3 million in construction costs and $1.7 million a year for operations and staff. The general population pods will hold no more than 94 inmates, and the juvenile pod will be limited to no more than 50.

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