Oklahoma Law Center Explains Why Justice Dept. Is Investigating The State’s Mental Health Response

The U.S. Department of Justice announced its launch of an investigation into how people with behavioral health issues are treated in Oklahoma.

Thursday, November 17th 2022, 6:29 pm



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The U.S. Department of Justice announced its launch of an investigation into how people with behavioral health issues are treated in Oklahoma.

The investigation will look into Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City Police Department, and the State of Oklahoma as a whole for potential civil rights violations.

Related: Federal Government Launches Investigation Into How OCPD, State Handle Mental Health Crises

Those violations stem from the lack of mental health resources in Oklahoma as the crux of the investigations aims to evaluate "whether the state of Oklahoma's failure to provide community-based services for people with behavioral health disabilities in Oklahoma County resulted in unnecessary institutionalizations and police encounters." 

“It's really a dichotomy between whether or not services are most available,” Oklahoma Disability Law Center legal director Brian Wilkerson said. “‘Do you have to check yourself into an in-patient facility...to receive appropriate services or are those community resources available?’”

The Oklahoma Disability Law Center and the ACLU submitted complaints to the DOJ back in February about the lack of mental health resources in the area.

The investigation will look at potential civil rights violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifically the lack of services leads to people in mental health crisis being unnecessarily institutionalized, and overpoliced. 

The DOJ will also look into how Oklahoma City emergency calls are handled and the response to someone dealing with a mental health crisis.

"When law enforcement comes out, oftentimes, the result is danger to law enforcement – sometimes danger to the individual certainly -- and an inappropriate number of incarcerations for something that should have never been a law enforcement call," Wilkerson said.  

While the Oklahoma County Detention Center is not itself being investigated, other institutions' use by entities like the Oklahoma City Police Department, are under DOJ investigation, officials said Thursday.

"Over the past three years, almost 1,100 people have been booked into the Oklahoma County Detention Center six or more times. Thirty-two of those individuals have been booked in 20 or more times,” Wilkerson said.

Out of those 1,100 people, Wilkerson also said nearly two-thirds have also used state-run mental health services in the last year. This statistic, according to Wilkerson, is proof the current system doesn't work.

"Most of those centers are very good at offering thins such as general intake, medication and case management, but not a lot of day-to-day access to counseling,” Wilkerson said. “Someone to therapeutically sit down and work through the issues.”

Other services mentioned in the conference call with DOJ that Oklahoma lacked were supported housing, assertive community treatment, peer support, intensive case management and supported employment.

The DOJ acknowledged the City of Oklahoma City and its police department have already taken some steps to address the issue. 

Last year, the entities hired an outside consultant who presented an 86-page report on ways to improve community relations. Two of those recommendations surround how OCPD handles mental health calls. 

Both the governor's office and OCPD said they plan to fully cooperate with the investigation.

Officials estimate the Oklahoma investigations will take close to a year to complete.

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