Problems at Tulsa County Jail are Increasing

Tulsa County Sheriff

In last month’s edition of , I presented a broad overview of the history of the Tulsa County jail and identified some of the serious issues and challenges there which we all face as citizens of Tulsa County.

This month, I want to present an outline of the jail problems and how they have come about. I believe this is important so that when you read the solutions I will propose to you in next month’s edition you will have a better understanding of exactly what it is we are trying to address.

The problems facing the jail are twofold: 1 – the number of inmates exceed the legal capacity of the jail, and 2 – the large percentage of mentally ill and mentally disturbed inmates in the jail has created great financial and legal risks.

The jail’s bed capacity is 1,714. The pods, cells, bathrooms, kitchens, laundry and other parts of the jail were designed to handle this number of inmates at its maximum occupancy. The current number of inmates has been several hundred above that every month for at least the past year.

The over capacity can be attributed to the state prison system being overloaded, the federal immigration system being overloaded, more law enforcement arrests being made, the court system being overloaded, and the underfunded collapse of the mental health system. All of these together create a county jail system that is both very costly to operate and exposes the citizens to lawsuits and liabilities.

The jail is currently undergoing an analysis by a professional accounting firm to determine what the actual per inmate, per day costs are. This will help us determine the full cost to operate the jail and how much to charge other governments that put inmates in the jail.

If, for example, the analysis concludes that it costs $65 per day, per inmate, and the average daily population in the jail is 1,900 inmates per day, that would mean the operating cost of the jail is over $45,000,000 each year.

If we are to reduce our costs, then our inmate population has to be reduced. If that’s not possible, then we have to consider some building expansion options to add room to the jail.

The other serious problem is the number of inmates in the jail with mental illness or in need of mental health care while incarcerated. In the past several years the number of inmates under psychology or psychiatric care in the jail has steadily increased. In 2011, 5,625 inmates were on psychotropic drugs. In 2013, as of June, that number was already 4,314.

The jail is the largest mental health treatment center in the state of Oklahoma today. On any given day, the resident psychiatrist will be dispensing psychotropic drugs to over 400 inmates. The jail was never designed to be a mental health hospital.

Clearly the movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill has, in some cases, just changed their institutionalization from hospitals to jails. Like patients in hospitals, many inmates at the jail are not there long term. Their stays are relatively short (18 months or less) before they are released back into the community.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon those of us responsible for the operation of the jail and for maintaining the peace and security in our community to do everything we can to address the mental illness of the inmates before their reentry back into the community.

It has been proven that more than 50 percent of the repeat criminal offenders have an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. Treatment, while in jail, is not an option or choice. It’s a requirement.

We do have a medical firm on site to deal with the mental health issues but, like with the capacity issues, the jail was never designed to handle hundreds of mentally ill inmates. It is neither safe nor effective risk management to mix mentally ill inmates with the general population inmates.

As with the over-capacity issue, we need to expand our facility to include sections where the mentally ill are not only secure but also given treatment.

The jail expansion options and how it can be paid for will be the topic of my next article.

Updated 11-26-2013

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