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Oklahoma State Senate
Communications Division
State Capitol
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105

For Immediate Release: February 10, 2010

Sen. Debbe Leftwich
Sen. Debbe Leftwich

Bill to Expand Mental Health Courts Awaits Appropriations Committee Vote

Legislation to increase access to mental health courts throughout Oklahoma is awaiting action by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate Bill 2153, by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, was approved by the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on Monday. Leftwich said although the bill wouldn’t kick in until there is available funding, passage would be an important step toward cutting millions of dollars in public safety costs in the years to come.

“We have thousands of people with mental illnesses in prison and in county jails that probably would not be there if we had been able to intervene, and the majority of them are nonviolent offenders,” said Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City. “That’s the idea behind Mental Health Court. It is far less expensive and much more productive to help these individuals instead of perpetuating the revolving door of arrest and incarceration.”

Leftwich said approximately 12,600 offenders held by the Department of Corrections have a mental health need, including 79 percent of all women offenders and 46 percent of males. The Oklahoma County Jail has up to 500 with mental illness at any one time.

“Right now people in only 14 Oklahoma counties have access to mental health courts, but in those counties, the results have been dramatic. There’s a 79 percent drop in unemployment for those who complete the program. One year after graduating, arrests fell by 92 percent and the days spent in jail dropped by 90 percent,” Leftwich said. “What this means is that these individuals are becoming more productive members of society and using far fewer public resources as a result.”

Senate committees have until February 18th to complete hearings on bills filed by members of the upper chamber.

For more information contact:
Sen. Leftwich: 405-521-5557

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