Study makes case for ‘Smart On Crime’ program

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 01-Oct-2010

A woman whose husband was arrested in 2008 for possession of crystal meth told lawmakers she is concerned he will not be rehabilitated because he has yet to receive much-needed substance abuse treatment.

Heather Horn spoke to the Oklahoma House Public Safety Committee this week, as part of a legislative study examining drug abuse, prisons, and rehabilitation. State Rep. Pat Ownbey, who requested the study, said her story and further research on his part opened his eyes to the need to prioritize substance abuse and mental health funding.

“Today’s study showed that this issue is partially about the efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Ownbey, an Ardmore Republican, said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK. “But I also believe that every life matters and that this is an issue about helping our neighbors, family and friends who are suffering because of these diseases of the mind.”

Oklahoma Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Terri White told lawmakers that taxpayer dollars would be better spent on drug court or mental health court for nonviolent offenders arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance. She noted that prison costs $48 a day compared to $25 a day for drug court and $15 a day for mental health court. Incarceration costs more than three times what treatment would cost, or $19,000 a year, she said. The re-arrest rate of drug court participants is 23.5 percent compared to 54 percent of those incarcerated. White also showed that those receiving treatment had high rates of employment, higher monthly incomes and were more likely to be taking care of their own children.

A $95.6 million proposal would create a net gain savings of about $233 million in three years, based on a study by Oklahoma Senate staff, she said. The state would continue to see approximately $123 million in savings each additional year beyond that three-year period, she said.

“Though I understand how tight our budget has been, I believe it makes sense to take advantage of such a potential cost-saving measure,” Ownbey said. “I am hoping that even if we are not able to fully fund the proposal this year, my colleagues will seriously consider prioritizing this program.”

Department of Corrections officials told lawmakers at the study that in fiscal year 2009, 57 percent of those discharged had not had their substance abuse and mental health needs met while in the system. They said that about 50 percent to 52 percent of inmates discharged would not be going into a probation or transition program in which those services would be offered.

“I think that by prioritizing mental health and substance abuse funding, we will make better use of taxpayer dollars and ensure a higher quality of life for our neighbors, families, and friends,” Ownbey said. “I hope today’s study will be the first step in that direction.”