Proper Care Difficult For Mentally Ill In Overcrowded Tulsa Jail

Friday, February 14th 2014, 7:29 pm
By: Emory Bryan

The Tulsa County Jail mental health unit is one part of an overcrowded lockup that's due for expansion, so that mental patients can get better care behind bars.

The underlying problem with a lot of the inmates is a mental illness, but in jail they're not going to get the kind of care they need to get much better.

1/13/2014 Related Story: Increasing Number Of Mentally Ill Inmates Adds To Tulsa Jail Overcrowding

The problem is simple, there's not enough room for the everyday inmate and much less room to effectively handle the growing population of mental patients.

When the Tulsa County Jail was built, no one imagined so many inmates would need mental health care. Now, it's one third of the 1,800 inmates.

Kathy Loehr, Lead Mental Health Professional, said, "We have a small unit here, with our more severely mentally ill, who we can manage a little bit better because we know where they are and we know they're going to be safe in that environment."

Most of the mentally ill inmates are scattered across 21 housing pods at the jail. That makes it tough for the small medical and mental health staff to keep tabs on them.

"It's the ability to find a place that's appropriate. We struggle to find an appropriate place while they're in jail, so they'll be safe and we can do follow-up with them," Loehr said.

The jail has 32,000 inmates come and go each year; and so many of them are mentally ill that it's become the biggest issue for the sheriff's office.

The Sheriff wants to expand the mental health unit to provide better care.

Major Shannon Clark, with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office said, "Jails are depositories for most of the mental ill in our society. There are no other resources; there are no other places for them to go, so jails seem to be the place where people with mental disorders are going to end up."

The mental health professionals who care for the inmates want them to get better care so they can do better when they get out.

"They're in jail, sure because they have legal issues, but they're still able to provide to the community if they can get that stuff cleared up and we can treat them so they can be stable in the community," said Loehr.

And stability is important, most inmates are only here a couple of weeks and if they're mentally stable, at least when the go out the door, they're more likely stay out of trouble.