Oklahoma prisons director Joe Allbaugh is pleading with state lawmakers to intervene with addicts and the mentally challenged before they end up in prisons that are already bursting at the seams.
With just at 27,000 inmates behind bars in Oklahoma (almost 1 percent of the state’s entire population), 1,300 more waiting to enter prisons and 35,000 under DOC supervision, the prison system is at a breaking point, Allbaugh said.
“Oklahoma has criminalized mental health and addiction issues that would be better addressed in the community long before people enter the criminal justice system,” he said. Almost 60 percent of inmates are currently receiving treatment for mental health issues. The numbers of those with addiction issues are just as high. “Our resources only allowed us to treat 28 percent of those who needed addiction treatment before they were released (this year).”
The situation is about to get worse with proposed budget cuts affecting the agency.
“The cuts would effectively eliminate drug and mental health courts” in communities, which offer treatment and help other than incarceration to those with mental health and drug addiction problems. “This would leave the 4,600 participants with no other alternative than prison...(and) the prison population will grow at an even faster rate.”
The prison system, he said, is “failing.”
“The time to act is now. These issues can be solved with bipartisan action,” he said. “Failing to intervene earlier in the glide path toward incarceration results in the system we have today. Oklahoma is failing her citizens.”