The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is working on an agreement with the Tulsa County officials to evaluate and treat some mentally ill jail inmates, the department’s head said Friday.
Commissioner Terri White said during the department’s board meeting that her office has been trying to come to an agreement with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and county judges to perform competency examinations and provide treatment to restore competency to county inmates under court order.
Individuals charged with a crime who, because of a mental illness or developmental disability, cannot understand the charges against them or assist in their defense are considered not competent to stand trial, though competency can be restored through treatment.
In Oklahoma, inmates ordered to undergo evaluations and treatment are sent to the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita. However, the 200-bed facility is full, White told the board, and there are about 100 inmates on the list awaiting treatment.
In February, an Oklahoma County judge threatened to hold White in contempt of court after an inmate ordered to undergo a competency evaluation waited more than six months for a bed at the Forensic Center to open up, stalling progress on the case.
White told the board she apologized to the judge. She said the judge was understanding of the situation but also frustrated by it.
Since then, the department has signed an agreement with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office to provide evaluations and treatment at the jail to inmates on the waiting list. Other states perform evaluations inside the jails, White said. Doing so helps take pressure off the system and saves the state money since it does not have to transport or house the inmates, she said.
Similar contempt actions are underway in Tulsa County, White said, and the department is working with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office to come up with an agreement. The sheriff’s office wants to use its own resources to do the evaluations, White said, so no agreement has been yet reached.