The Tulsa County sheriff’s office will open mental health pods to better address the needs of inmates with mental illnesses, The Oklahoman reports. A full-time psychiatrist and nurses will work throughout the unit, and the jail administration hopes to find a way to provide individual and group therapy. Officials say the pods are not a solution to Oklahoma’s larger issue: a mental health and substance abuse system that has been underfunded and overburdened for decades. Oklahoma spends less than half the national average, $56.22 per capita, on mental health. For years, Oklahoma has ranked near the bottom for its mental health spending.
This lack of investment has created a fractured mental health system with long waits for treatment for many. The waitlist for state-funded residential drug treatment is more than 800 people long. With limited treatment available, many end up in county jails and prisons. Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Michelle Robinette said the growing number of inmates with mental illnesses is a symptom of the larger issue, and the mental health pods are necessary in ensuring this population is helped as best as possible while in jail. “In the long run, on back end, they’re going to get out,” she said. ” … They’re going to go back to your neighborhood. You want them stable. You want them functioning individuals. You don’t want them back the way they came … And a lot of people don’t see that. Because (for) a lot of the communities, (for) a lot of people, ‘If it doesn’t touch me, I don’t get it; I don’t understand it, I don’t want to understand it.’ Well, we’re having to be forced to deal with it and to find a way to deal with it so that you can continue to have blinders on, if that’s what you choose to do.”