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TCSO: Mentally Ill In Jail Instead Of Hospital An Unfortunate Reality

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The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office says the number of mentally ill inmates at the jail is growing fast. The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office says the number of mentally ill inmates at the jail is growing fast.
"It becomes a constant challenge and it's a challenge day in and day out," said Major Shannon Clark. "It becomes a constant challenge and it's a challenge day in and day out," said Major Shannon Clark.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office says a civil rights lawsuit involving an inmate's death comes down to a much bigger issue: how the state handles the mentally ill.

Elliott Williams died at the jail in October 2011. The sheriff's office says Williams never should have been there in the first place.

The sheriff's office says someone like Williams should have been taken directly to a mental health facility, but with a shortage of those facilities in the state, the sheriff's office says the easier, unfortunate option is booking them into jail.

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office says the number of mentally ill inmates at the jail is growing fast.

"It becomes a constant challenge and it's a challenge day in and day out," said Major Shannon Clark.

Clark said the jail has 1,767 inmates. Right now, 479 of those are receiving psychotropic drugs for mental issues.

"Nearly one third of our population in that jail is receiving psychotropic narcotics. Those are the ones we know about," Clark said.

7/1/2013 Related Story: Lawsuit Filed Against Tulsa Sheriff, Jail For Cruel And Unusual Punishment

He said mental health policies are a priority, but finding the proper space for those inmates is difficult. The moment an inmate is booked, they go through an evaluation process by a medical professional.

Nurses check vitals and ask a series of questions involving the inmate's mental health status to determine if a mental health professional needs to be called in or if the inmate can be assigned to a spot in the jail.

The medical unit is constantly monitored by medical personnel and jail staff with 24 available beds. Segregation is an isolated cell where inmates get frequent visits by medical staff and jail surveillance. That area has 96 beds for men and 16 for women.

If the medical staff determines an inmate should be transferred to a mental health facility, they need a judge.

"We cannot release anyone from that jail without a judicial order. Some judge has to get involved in the process and say, 'Yes, I agree that person needs to go,'" Clark said.

But that doesn't mean an inmate will actually get help if the order is granted.

"Once we let them out, do they really go get help? It's not like we always have a transport order to take them to a mental health hospital," Clark said. "We're doing the best we can with the resources we have."

The sheriff's office is accredited by the top three groups for meeting national standards in corrections and correctional healthcare.

The office is up for re-accreditation every three years.

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