Judge Demands State Action: Oklahoma County Inmate Waits 480 Days for Mental Health Treatment

Oklahoma City – Inmates at the Oklahoma County Detention Center are facing extensive delays in receiving mental health evaluation and treatment. The average wait time at the county jail before being transferred to a mental health facility is a staggering 480 days. Recently, an Oklahoma County judge took action against these prolonged wait times, threatening to impose fines on the state if inmates are not promptly transferred. The judge argued that the jail is not an appropriate environment for individuals with severe mental health needs.

In January, KOCO reported that dozens of inmates were waiting for transport to the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita, a facility that provides treatment for those who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial. The situation came to light when Zachary Whitaker, an inmate at the Oklahoma County Jail, was declared incompetent to stand trial in October. Despite Judge Susan Stallings ordering his transfer to a state facility for treatment, Whitaker remained incarcerated for an extended period of time.

Fed up with the state’s delay, Judge Stallings held the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in contempt of her order. She demanded that the state pay $500 per day until Whitaker was transferred. However, Whitaker’s case is not unique. Oklahoma County officials confirmed that there are currently 22 other inmates awaiting transfer.

Ed Blau, a legal expert, explained that if inmates want to seek fines against the state, their lawyers would need to file a motion with the judge, requesting that the Department of Mental Health be held in contempt if they fail to expedite the transfer process to Vinita. While the state disagrees with the court’s finding, it is working to comply with the order and admit the inmate.

Blau emphasized that it’s crucial to address the issue of delayed transfers, as the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health are obligated to follow the court’s orders. Although seeking fines may be a temporary solution, it does not address the long-term problem. Blau suggested that the state will need additional funding and more beds to properly address the backlog.

In response to the growing crisis, the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is exploring alternative programs to provide treatment to inmates deemed incompetent at the local level. This solution could alleviate some of the burden on the overcrowded jail and facilitate faster transfers to appropriate mental health facilities.

The plight of inmates waiting for mental health treatment in Oklahoma County underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive and efficient system to address their needs. Without prompt action and adequate resources, individuals with mental health issues may continue to suffer in an environment ill-equipped to provide the care they require.