The Drug Problem: Replacing Jail with Rehabilitation

When the David L. Moss Justice Center (DLM) opened over 30 years ago, it was intended that this Tulsa County jail would hold those awaiting trial for committing violent crimes which Oklahoman’s believed deserved punishment, not rehabilitation or treatment.
Since the DLM opened, the community’s perspectives about incarceration have changed. Those involved in the criminal justice system have learned more about what contributes to criminal behavior and what purpose comes from incarcerating people in an attempt to change their behavior. There has also been greater focus on the human and financial costs of incarcerating those charged with nonviolent crimes.
Crimes involving drugs has done the most to change the former perception. Many of those charged with violent crimes, committed these offenses while under the influence of drugs. Many more are arrested for being in possession of illegal drugs.
DLM is not a treatment center. Catching and releasing those charged with a misdemeanor drug offense does not address the root causes that made the use of drugs a controlling influence in the offender’s life. DLM was not designed to be, nor should it be, used as a lock up for those charged with misdemeanor drug crimes. Yet jail statistics show that at least 50 inmates each month are in the Medically Assisted Treatment Program for Drug Addiction (MAT).
The Tulsa Board of County Commissioners, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, the Tulsa Police Department, OSU’s Medical and Science Center, along with a group of incarceration reform leaders believe the legislature can help address this problem.
For the 2020 Legislative Session, Tulsa County has advanced SB 1660 sponsored by Broken Arrow Senator John Haste and Tulsa Representative Carol Bush. The objective of this legislation is very clear: improve public safety and public health by reducing the potential for criminal behavior by those struggling with drug addiction. This can be accomplished with interventions that link low level drug offenders with services offering evaluation, treatment, etc. This will not only reduce criminal behavior, it will also be less costly than repeatedly processing these individuals through the criminal justice system.
Substituting incarceration with rehabilitation is at the heart of SB 1660. If this legislation passes, it would begin with the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office agreeing on the policies and practices of this drug diversion program. But simply put, a person in possession of a controlled dangerous drug would be offered the opportunity by the law enforcement officer to be taken to the OSU Medical and Sciences Center or any other approved center for substance abuse evaluation. If the offender agrees to be taken to the facility, no criminal charges will be filed. Since law enforcement officers are normally the first to encounter these individuals, they will be trained to recognize when the drug diversion opportunity is appropriate.
Diversion is a new approach that seeks to accomplish the goals of reduced criminal behavior and improved public safety by connecting low level drug offenders with treatment and social services. This approach will cost less and be more successful at reducing future criminal behavior than routinely processing the offenders through the criminal justice system.
SB 1660 is the pathway toward achieving this worthy goal.

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