Bill Veto By Gov. Stitt Means Delays For Inmate Mental Health Evaluations

The Rogers County Sheriff's Office is frustrated with the Governor's decision to veto a bill that would have given inmates with mental health problems the help they need faster. As it stands now, inmates could sit in a jail cell, waiting to get an evaluation and eventually treatment.

Thursday, June 15th 2023, 9:15 pm



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The Rogers County Sheriff's Office is frustrated with the Governor's decision to veto a bill that would have given inmates with mental health problems the help they need faster. As it stands now, inmates could sit in a jail cell, waiting to get an evaluation and eventually treatment.

Governor Stitt vetoed Senate Bill 552 and sent us a statement that reads, in part: “[W]e must do a better job addressing rampant mental health issues plaguing our society. This includes taking a hard look at the methods and structures being used to restore to competency those criminal defendants who may be afflicted by mental health disorders. Although this Bill is well intended, it is not the right solution at this time. For instance, many county jails do not yet have necessary treatment staff, environments, and frameworks in place to handle the responsibilities this Bill would create.”

The bill had support from offices across the state including law enforcement, the court system and mental health.

"The District Attorneys Council, the Sheriffs’ Association and Department of Mental Health have all sat down and agreed this is the best solution moving forward. This may be a great first step. Now is this gonna solve everybody's problems? Probably not, but why not at least move in that direction as we work through this,” said Undersheriff Jon Sappington, Rogers County.

Undersheriff Jon Sappington said the system is failing people with mental health issues who get arrested, because they are sitting in a jail cell for months, even year, before getting an evaluation or the help they need.

"They wind up in a cell just like this [shows a small cell] and so this is where they sit for two years,” said Sappington.

Sappington said someone who is found incompetent to stand trial isn't just depressed or lonely.

"Like you're talking about an individual who does not have the right mental state to function in society. You're talking about an individual who is throwing urine or feces or fighting with you on a daily basis. Like you're talking about somebody who needs treatment,” said Sappington.

The Rogers County Jail currently has two inmates who have been found incompetent to stand trial; Sappington said they’ve had as many as 12 inmates waiting for a competency evaluation at one time.

Sappington said the wait is rising at an exponential rate.

He said one Rogers County inmate waited about six months to be evaluated and was found incompetent by a jury in May. And now, he could sit in jail for up to two years waiting for a bed at the Oklahoma Forensic Center.

Sappington said one woman who was arrested for a misdemeanor DUI and found incompetent never did get help.

"She was ordered to go to restorative services in Vinita and it took them a year and a half to get her a bed available and she still did never actually go to Vinita. The courts actually ordered her to be released, but her maximum sentence was a year. And so, she sat in jail for six months past her maximum sentence waiting on restorative services,” said Undersheriff Sappington.

Sappington said Rogers County has found creative solutions to work around this, including using a $500,000 grant to start providing treatment while these individuals are in custody.

He said they can issue an Emergency Detention Order if you’re in crisis and you can be transported to a mental health provider for up to 72 hours, which is really the only workaround right now. However, he said the Department of Mental Health defines crisis only as being an active threat to you or someone else.

If they are found incompetent but are not actively in crisis and the person refuses treatment, the jail can’t force treatment on the inmate.

Sappington also said many of these facilities don’t have the same security measures in place and aren’t equipped to take in those accused of committing violent crimes.

Right now, either someone from the Forensic Center or a subcontractor from the Department of Mental Health has to do a competency evaluation. That person then has a hearing.

"He gets to either agree to that hearing and say, ‘yes, I'm incompetent,’ or gets to contest it and have a jury trial. Once he's found incompetent, the only solution is he goes to Vinita for restorative services, currently," said Sappington. "[…] If this bill had went through, we would have treatment options from a DMH provider just like we have currently within the community that would come into the jail to provide treatment.”

He said an attempt at providing treatment is better than doing nothing at all.

“Law enforcement and public safety as a whole have taken on loads in reference to calls for service and job duties that were really never ours and this is just another result of that. And so, while the state continues to try to figure out how they're gonna handle mental health, the jails across the state are gonna be your largest mental health providers," said Sappington.

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