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Oklahoma on the Right Track But Still Short of the Finish Line

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(Nov. 13, 2012) Over the last few decades, Oklahoma has withdrawn support for community and hospital-based mental health services. As it has, the state has witnessed an explosion in its mentally ill prison population.

ok_state_penNow a recent article from the Pew Center’s “Stateline” news service suggests the state may be recognizing the power of treatment to reverse this shameful trend (“Oklahoma Looks for Ways to Keep Mentally Ill Ex-offenders Out of Prison,” Oct. 22).

The Oklahoma Collaborative Mental Health Re-Entry Program, launched in 2007, aims to make community services available to non-violent mentally ill offenders upon their release from prison. The program ensures that participants are signed up for Social Security Disability Income and Medicaid. This sets up ongoing support for medication and counseling, housing and general life-management.

The results are hard to dismiss. The recidivism rate over a three-year span for program participants is 25.2 percent, compared to a 42.3 percent rate for a comparable prison population before the program started. This has earned Oklahoma an innovation award from the Council of State Governments.

We applaud this success and heartily agree with Phil Cotten of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police who said “anything that keeps people on their medication and in treatment is a positive step.”

But we would be remiss not to point out that Oklahoma may be missing an opportunity to dramatically boost results by incorporating assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) into its strategy.

AOT is not intended for everyone. Many people with severe mental illness recognize their own need for treatment and will thrive if good services are offered. But for those who lack insight into their condition, good services are not enough. There must also be a mechanism to encourage treatment adherence.

We have to wonder how many of the 25.2 percent of Oklahoma Re-Entry Program participants who did re-offend might have fared better if a simple court order had been added to the mix.

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