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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Oklahoma Looks for Ways to Keep Mentally Ill Ex-offenders Out of Prison

English: Oklahoma State Penitentiary

English: Oklahoma State Penitentiary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From the 23 October 2012 article at Stateline Daily

 

Central to that program is ensuring that participants leave custody already signed up for Social Security Disability and Medicaid, which immediately provides them with some income and health care and – crucial for them – psychiatric medication and counseling.

By comparison, unless they are disabled in some way, typical inmates leaving prison in Oklahoma do not qualify for either Social Security or Medicaid benefits. Usually, they are given a lift to the bus station, a ticket to anywhere they want to go in the state, $50, and sometimes a handshake.

Lowering Recidivism

If the measure of success is keeping mentally ill ex-offenders out of prison, the Oklahoma Collaborative Mental Health Re-Entry Program has been a success. The recidivism rate over a three-year span for those participating in the program is 25.2 percent, compared to the 42.3 percent rate for a comparable prison population before the program started in 2007. On the basis of those results, the program earned an innovation award this year from the Council of State Governments.

Law enforcement is positive about the program as well. “Anything that keeps them on their medication and in treatment is a positive step,” says Phil Cotten, acting director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police.

Not the least of those extolling the program are its beneficiaries, some of whom have no doubt about the boomerang route their post-prison life would have followed without the re-entry experiment…

..

Criminalizing Mental Illness

Like every other state, Oklahoma has seen a correlation between the emptying of its psychiatric hospitals in the sixties and seventies and its ever-increasing prison population. According to Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections, half of its prisoners have a history of or currently exhibit some form of mental illness (resulting in a threefold increase in the number of prisoners receiving psychotropic drugs between 1998 and 2006). Some call it the criminalization of mental illness. In a different time, many of the symptomatic mentally ill ended up in psychiatric wards; today they go to prison, a situation that Robert Powitsky, the chief mental officer of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, calls a “travesty.”

“The new front-line mental health workers are law enforcement officers and the new psychiatric hospitals are the prisons and the jails,” says Powitzky, who has spent most of his four-decade long career as a psychologist in prison systems. “It’s wrong, it’s just plain wrong.”…

 

October 23, 2012 Posted by | health care | , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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