Terri White, commissioner of the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department, said having more drug and mental health treatment options at the community level, before people enter the criminal justice system, could help trim the prison population.
"Today we know that mental illness and addiction is a disease of the brain,” White said. "The brain is not working correctly, just like the body doesn’t work correctly when someone has diabetes. If we locked up people with diabetes there would be a public outcry.”
Participants in Tuesday’s panel recognized the challenges for lawmakers to reform the state’s criminal justice system and urged town hall participants to talk to their local leaders, urging the need for reforms.
The Oklahoma Academy is a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit group that examines issues facing the state each year. In previous years, the group has helped push for reforms in clean air, tax credits for investments in agriculture and increasing health insurance among Oklahomans.