Approximately two million adults impacted by serious mental illness are admitted to jail each year across the nation. They tend to stay longer in jail, have a higher risk of returning to jail, and they also have substance abuse problems. They are not criminals; they are sick and in need of treatment. This is a growing challenge for our state as we throw lives away by incarcerating them, and cannot keep up with the costs of incarceration.
This is a terrible system for people with mental illness, and their families, so we have dedicated ourselves to the following criminal justice reform efforts.
When Tulsans experiencing homelessness commit small, petty crimes as a direct result of their mental illness or substance abuse, they are often placed on the City of Tulsa Municipal Court docket and fined. If they cannot afford to pay their fines, they are placed in jail.
The innovative Special Services Docket was established as a partnership between the Tulsa City Municipal Court, Mental Health Association Oklahoma and other local non-profits, including Family and Children’s Services and Youth Services of Tulsa.
This groundbreaking docket uses the leverage of the court to help participants connect with services. In exchange for their participation, fines and court costs are dismissed, and they are kept out of jail.
This coordinated model of jail diversion, behavioral health treatment, and provision of support services has helped Tulsans get into housing, stay on their treatment plan and out of trouble. The docket has been proven to be more effective, holistic, sustainable and cost-effective compared to the massive costs of cycling in and out of ERs, shelters, inpatient hospitalizations and incarceration.
During its first two years, Special Services Docket kept participants from spending over 9,000 days in jail and saved the community $700,000 in jail costs.
Tulsa County was the 81st county in the U.S. to endorse the Stepping Up initiative as an official policy by our county commissioners and Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
Stepping Up provides state-of-the-art training to law enforcement, jail diversion strategies in all forms, and expansion of intensive community-based engagement and outreach to people with serious mental illness who have ceased to recognize they are ill. To do so requires intensive engagement with law enforcement, the judicial branches, jail operators and local political leadership.
Ideally, Stepping Up helps recognize the signs of mental illness and connects those in need to resources in the community so they will not end up behind bars.