Governor Stitt vetoes bill aimed at boosting mental health treatment in Oklahoma jails

Governor Stitt vetoes bill aimed at boosting mental health treatment in Oklahoma jails

Posted on: June 15th, 2023   Topic: OSA News

by Payton May 

A bill aiming to increase mental health treatment in jails across Oklahoma was vetoed by the Governor.

Now, advocates and the bill’s author are speaking out on what they call ‘critical’ reform getting shut down. The goal of SB552 is to help restore competency to those in jail so they can stand trial.Senator John Haste, (R)- Broken Arrow, said it was a request bill from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, who worked together on the concept with the Sheriff’s Association and DA’s Council.

In his veto message, Governor Stitt said the bill has good intentions, but he doesn’t agree with the solutions.

“To say I was surprised on Friday when SB552 was vetoed is saying it very mildly. I totally expected it to be passed,” Sen. Haste said.

Working down to the last seconds of the regular session, Sen. Haste thought his bill that unanimously passed the House of Representatives and only had one no vote in the Senate was a win-win for all parties involved.

Together with the DA’s council, Sheriff’s Association and ODMHSAS, he was trying to assist those who aren’t yet competent to stand trial.

“Number one, we don’t want people staying in jail longer than what their sentence would have been to begin with. So this was to address some of that,” Sen. Haste said.

Advocates are tackling two issues at once, restoring competency so someone understands their charges, and decreasing large jail populations.

“Part of this has to do with the crowding of the jails and being able to get someone to trial if they should go to trial,” Sen. Haste said. “If they’re competent to do that, be able to get them if they’re serving a sentence, serve that, and then be able to get out.”

The Governor is concerned this puts too much pressure on some county jails that might not have the necessary treatment staff to handle the responsibility of tending to those with mental heath disorders.

Right now, the Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse provides that help through pilot programs in 60 different county jails.

They were hoping to expand their progress across the state.

“The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services currently offers jail-based competency restoration services, through a pilot program, across the state. We accomplish this by working with local officials, at their discretion. SB 552 aims to provide mental health services to all communities, by allowing specialty-trained forensics teams to enter jail facilities and provide competency restoration services to those awaiting trial.” -Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse

The Sheriff’s Association also sent a statement to FOX25, saying:
“The OSA has supported Senator Haste and Representative Worthen’s efforts to get this bill passed. We have over 200 people sitting in our jail waiting for hearings that most do not belong in the jail in the first place. But to get them the treatment they need they must sit in the county jail and wait. They deserve the treatment they are entitled to in the most expeditious manner. SB552 opens the door to that treatment.”





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