Long Waits For Oklahoma County Detainees Show Need For More Mental Health Beds

Oklahoma County inmates who suffer from mental illness are experiencing long waits to transfer to a mental health facility.

Wednesday, January 10th 2024, 6:30 pm

By: News 9, Deanne Stein


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Inmates who suffer from mental illness are suffering behind bars.

According to the Oklahoma County Detention Center, 23 detainees are currently waiting for transfer to a state mental health facility. The average wait is 480 days with one detainee waiting 1,026 days because there are no open beds.

Oklahoma County Commissioners hope to alleviate some of that with a new mental health facility tied to the new Oklahoma County jail. Wednesday morning it was a full house at the commissioner’s meeting. “I anticipated it was going to be as every bit as lively as it was and I think there were even more out in the hallway,” said Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.

Commissioners are still trying to find land to build the new county jail and opposition came from all the proposed sites. “I knew all along this was going to be challenging, I guess I probably didn't think it was going to be quite this difficult,” Maughan said.

Commissioners also have the added task of choosing land based on building a mental health facility in conjunction with the jail. “We absolutely believe that it needs to be completely separate from the jail,” said Mark Faulk with the People’s Council for Justice

Faulk believes the mental health facility should be separate from the jail. “Rather than run people through a jail system where they sit now an average of 480 days before they get put into a facility, let's put the people who need mental health help straight into a facility,” he said. 

However, until the land is purchased, Commissioner Maughan says it's unclear how that looks. “There are possible scenarios of where it could be drawn inside the facility like its own wing or its own floor,” Maughan said.

However, the commissioner says the facility would have staff trained to deal with mental illness.

According to the Oklahoma County Detention Center, mental health encounters inside the jail are up, from 2,000 encounters in January of last year to 3,000 just last month. The center also confirmed the long waits for those who need to be transferred to a state mental health facility, with one detainee waiting over 1000 days because there are no available beds. However, with more beds, the hope is that will change. “Let's put the people who need mental health help straight into a facility,” said Faulk. “Don't criminalize them and don't traumatize them.”

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