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Oklahoma Mental Health Officials Seeing Success with Prison Diversion Programs

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Oklahoma mental health officials told state lawmakers they are seeing success with expanded "Smart on Crime" initiatives.

By the end of June, jails in all 77 Oklahoma counties should be assessing every person arrested for a nonviolent crime for their mental health, potential substance abuse and their risk of reoffending. Oklahoma Interim Mental Health Commissioner Carrie Slatton-Hodges said 73 do so now.

"Counties that have not been using this are sending two times the number of people on to prison than counties that use the offender screening system. To date, approximately 30,000 screens have been completed … and an estimated 82% of those screened individuals are eligible for diversion programs, including treatment and other services," Slatton-Hodges said.

Information from the screenings goes to courts, prosecutors and treatment providers.

"That has meant a reduced average time that an offender spends awaiting sentence by 78 days, resulting in $29.6 million in jail day savings," Slatton-Hodges said.

Drug and mental health courts have kept thousands of Oklahomans facing felony charges from going to prison. Now, mental health officials want to expand the concept to misdemeanor dockets.

Slatton-Hodges said 950 people have gone through pilot programs in Tulsa, Creek, Payne, Garfield, Canadian, Oklahoma, Cleveland, Pottawatomie, Pittsburg and Comanche counties. Each works a little differently — some offer mental health and substance abuse services before charges are filed, some operate much like existing drug courts and others let providers report to prosecutors when a defendant in treatment slips up.

"Data is being collected on each of these three models to determine the outcomes from those, and we’re starting to get a lot of people in treatment at the misdemeanor level, which is very exciting," Slatton-Hodges said.

Okmulgee, McIntosh, Hughes, Seminole, Kingfisher, Woodward, Beckham, Harmon, Greer, Jackson, Kiowa and Tillman counties may add programs soon, but statewide implementation would run around $35 million.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.