Oklahoma Designs Reentry for Mentally Ill Inmates

Mentally ill offenders have a tendency to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. Some members of law enforcement see the same offenders so often they’ve begun calling them “frequent flyers.”

To reduce the high recidivism in this class of offender, Oklahoma created the Oklahoma Collaborative Mental Health Reentry Program to keep mentally ill inmates from returning to prison. The Program in part ensures that mentally ill offenders continue to take their medication once they’re back on the streets. But beyond medication, it also involves counseling and reintegration classes, as well as assistance in finding housing and food.

Part of the key to accomplishing these goals is a concerted effort by the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health to share information on offenders so that no one—and no issue—slips through the cracks.

Early results are positive: offenders entering the program recidivate at a rate of 25.2 percent, a far cry from the 42.3 percent for a comparable prison population.

Oklahoma officials estimate about half of their prison inmates have some form of a mental illness, and have documented a 300 percent increase in psychotropic drug administration between 1998 and 2006. Thus, reductions in recidivism in mentally ill offenders not only keep the public more safe, but cut down on costs in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.

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