Criminal Justice Reform Advocates Say Bills Lack Mental Health Funding
OKLAHOMA CITY - The state legislature is considering a series of bills that could reduce the prison population. But opponents say the bills don’t do enough to keep people from re-offending.
On paper, the bills look like they could make a difference by reducing penalties for those currently in prison for non-violent offenses and changing the cash bail system.
Criminal justice reform advocates say to keep felons from returning to prison the state needs to do more.
“We’re sending people right back if we don’t provide the treatment that they need,” said former state Senator Angela Monson.
Monson says setting non-violent prisoners free isn’t enough. With as many as 80 percent of prisoners facing mental health or substance abuse issues, she says the state has to focus more on post-release treatment.
“They have these mental health and substance abuse issues before they go. While they’re in. And of course, they come home with those same problems probably multiplied as a result of the incarceration. So, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure,” said Monson.
House Democrats want to expand Medicaid and invest 45 million more dollars into mental health services. Governor Kevin Stitt wants to spend 10 million dollars more.
“I think it’s a great start and with the budget where we are at this year that’s what I’m advocating for,” said Governor Stitt.
Republicans in the House and Senate are expected to add more money for mental health and substance abuse services.
“The budget process is taking those into account, and we are working diligently to try to come to an agreement on making sure that we fund criminal justice reform, not just pass the policy but put the dollars behind it,” said Senator Greg Treat (R) President Pro Tempore.
Monson says if the state invests in mental health and substance abuse services now, while there is a budget surplus, taxpayers will save more money in the long run.
“We know it works,” said Monson. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. You could look all across, not this country, but across the world and see the value of prevention. You know that old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”
The criminal justice reform bills passed out of the Senate with title off, which means lawmakers can still make changes to the language.