Tulsa Jail’s Expensive Mental Health Pod Stays Full

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Arrested after leading Tulsa police on a high-speed chase in 2016, when family members say he was suffering from paranoid delusions, Jeff Welton has been incarcerated for nearly 18 months while waiting for the courts to decide whether he’s mentally competent to stand trial. His mental condition seems to have deteriorated further while he has been in the county jail’s new mental health pod, his mother tells the Tulsa World. “If they can’t deal with psyche-patient issues in jail, they should not put them in jail,” she said bitterly. “That’s basically the crux of the problem.”

Jail officials seem to agree, at least to some extent. The Tulsa Jail doesn’t get to choose its inmates. Administrator David Park has to take whoever law enforcement officers bring in. Tulsa County’s mental health pod is a multimillion-dollar attempt to “make the best of it,” Park said. The pod opened last April after voters approved a 15-year extension of a sales tax increase to fund a $15 million expansion of the jail, part of which is dedicated entirely to housing inmates with diagnosed mental illnesses. The area houses 106 inmates in four levels of security. It stays consistently full. The pod has a psychiatrist and psychologist on staff, along with clinicians who can dispense medications. “But we’re not a mental health hospital,” Park said. “We’re a jail. We’re doing our best to give people the treatment they need, but we’re still a jail, and we can’t change that.”

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