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OK lawmakers set aside $4.1 million in hopes of filing a mental health lawsuit

A $4.1 million appropriation has been quietly tucked away in the state budget pending resolution of a lawsuit alleging Oklahoma’s mental health agency is failing to provide timely treatment to county inmates.

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said the funds in House Bill 2929 were allocated to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the event the state files the lawsuit during the legislative interim period would solve.

The federal lawsuit filed last year alleges the agency and the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita failed to provide timely court-ordered competency restoration services to inmates in county jails.

The plaintiffs, who are the guardian ad litem for four inmates awaiting competency restoration treatment, are not seeking monetary damages but want the state to develop a recovery plan to shorten wait times for competency evaluations and treatment.

They allege that state and federal constitutional rights and protections of prisoners under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated.

“Dozens of presumed innocent Oklahomans suffering from serious mental illness are languishing in county jails awaiting treatment to restore their skills for extended periods that far exceed constitutional limits,” the lawsuit said. “Many have waited several months for the restorative treatment required by law.

“Some have waited more than a year. Almost all of them are destitute.”

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Prisons, unequipped for treatment, have become de facto psychiatric wards, the suit alleges.

During budget negotiations, lawmakers said that could cost more than the $4.1 million. According to the discussions, the state could also face significant fines.

Projections indicate that fixing the problem could cost as much as $45 million over five years, Wallace said in an interview with Oklahoma Voice on Tuesday.

But many things still need to happen before those funds can be used, Wallace said.

That could include requiring a court or judge to approve a consent decree, Wallace said.

A consent decree is an agreement between the parties to resolve the lawsuit.

A consent decree could include reshaping the powers of county jails and staff training, he said.

It could also involve creating a plan similar to the multi-year Pinnacle Plan, Wallace said.

The Pinnacle Plan began in 2013 to settle a federal class action lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

More: Long waits for competency assessments, which increases prison sentences and gives taxpayers extra money, the curators said

It was intended to improve the state’s foster care system.

Paul DeMuro, a Tulsa attorney, is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“I am grateful that the appropriation has been made, and it is a necessary appropriation,” DeMuro said.

He declined to comment further.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Oklahoma Voice Editor Janelle Stecklein contributed to this report.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, please contact editor Janelle Stecklein: [email protected]. Follow Oklahoma Voice Facebook And Tweet.

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