By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Kay County District Court is much better suited to addressing crimes committed by perpetrators suffering with mental health problems, thanks to a special grant recently received, and is now able offer the defendants needed treatment for their ailments, instead of sending them through the state’s prison system.
Kay County District Court received the grant through the Anna McBride Act, which was passed for the creation of mental health courts.
“The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Act services received federal funds, and we get funding through them to help run our court,” said District Judge Jennifer Brock.
Kay County District Court enacted the mental heal services in January, joining several other counties in the state, including Oklahoma, Tulsa and Rogers counties.
The mental health court was created to offer alternative sentencing for defendants arrested for a crime who are suffering from a mental health disorder as recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Participants in the program receive treatment of their condition while remaining a part of the community, to help them potentially change their paths.
“This is a diverse program for defendants who are charged with qualifying crimes, and approved by the district attorney’s office to provide them with mental health and substance abuse treatment, which remaining in the community,” Brock said. “They have to have a serious mental illness diagnosis.”
Following arrest for a qualifying crime, they must be visibly suffering from mental health problems. The person who may identify them as having mental health problems may be the arresting law enforcement officer, or even a guard at the jail. Once identified, they must go through an assessment to determine if they in fact have problems needing to be addressed.
“They get arrested, then they will have an assessment to determine if they are eligible, and once we determine that they are eligible, they go through a screening process at the DA for approval,” Brock said. “If the DA determines they are eligible, they will be recommended by a team who ultimately determines whether the person may participate.”
There are two programs available, depending on the severity of the crime: a misdemeanor program, which typically takes about nine months for completion, and a felony program, which takes about 18 months.
Kay County District Court is working with Grand Lake Mental Health, which has a facility at the Opportunity Center in Ponca City. GLMH offers treatment for both mental health and substance abuse.
The program offers a variety of treatment options, including substance abuse rehabilitation, managing mental health conditions through medication and counseling, and even helping the participant become a better citizen, such as those with job applications.
“They can receive all needed services at Grand Lake Mental Health,” Brock said.
The program is only available prior to convictions. If he or she has already been sentenced, they will not qualify for assistance until release from prison. Also, the defendant must not have any prior violent crime convictions.
“They have to have a pending crime – they have to be charged with something,” Brock said. “If a person had a prior conviction for a violent crime, they cannot come in because the law doesn’t allow them,”” Brock said.
Kay County District Court currently has two participants in the program, with about six more in the pending process. The goal for those participants is to get them to the treatment services they need, as an alternative to a lengthy prison sentence, and return them be an active part of the community.
“This type of specialty court allows us to work specifically with our defendant, who has untreated mental illness that is contributing to them being charged with crimes,” she said. “If they went to prison, they would not receive the same amount of treatment we world be able to give them right now.”