MIDWEST CITY — Police Chief Brandon Clabes remembers the repeat offenders.
The woman who can't afford alcohol, so she gets drunk on mouthwash.
The homeless man who steals so he can spend the winter months in jail.
A countless number of cases with countless numbers of people suffering.
“I see people in our jail 25 times a year, same people, with the same issues,” Clabes said.
The recurring theme in many of their cases is that the people either suffer from an untreated mental health issue or a substance abuse problem.
Midwest City officials have decided it's time to address a problem that only continues to grow.
The Midwest City jail, the largest city jail in Oklahoma, will soon begin a pilot program that will treat jail offenders for substance abuse and mental health issues.
Programs on a city level are uncommon
The program is similar to drug courts and mental health courts that can be found at many of Oklahoma's county jails. It's unusual to find these types of programs, though, on a city level. It will be able to handle 25 people at a time. The program will cycle people in and out.
Clabes said this is an example of community-based policing that the department is increasing in hopes of better serving its community.
“We tell everybody that's why we get into law enforcement is to help individuals, but do we really do it?” he said. “I think I see more compassionate police officers now, police officers who are more understanding, police officers that know what mental health issues and substance abuse does to people's lives ... We all know somebody in our family who has suffered from mental health issues or substance abuse.”
The majority of people who end up at the Midwest City jail are suffering, on varying levels, from mental health issues or substance abuse issues, and in some cases, both.
Statewide, Oklahoma has some of the highest rates of mental illness and substance abuse in the nation. Suicide is the leading cause of intentional deaths in Oklahoma, outnumbering homicides by more than two-to-one, according to the state Health Department.
Additionally, the rate of crimes related to alcohol use has decreased in Oklahoma since 2005, but Oklahoma has consistently higher rates than the national average, according to state data and the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Crimes related to alcohol use include aggravated assaults, sexual assaults and robberies.
These are the types of crimes that leaders hope to decrease.
And that's the reason Dee Collins voted “yes” in support of the program at this month's Midwest City council meeting.
The councilman said he remembered what it was like to feel helpless in arresting someone who wasn't well.
During his 30-plus years at Midwest City Police Department, Collins saw people arrested who suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues. They were usually not connected with services that could help them.
“Over the course of that time, you see people who are historically repeat offenders,” Collins said. “We arrest them, they come in, they get sentenced, they do their time and they come back and do the same thing, just the same thing over and over, and it's a huge tax on the system.”
Collins remembered a woman in the 1980s who was addicted to heroin and was stealing $200 per day to support her drug habit. It's an example of how much money people who are struggling with addiction can cost businesses, he said.
“That's just one case, and there's countless numbers of cases like that,” he said.
Although leaders are still working out the details of the program, they all agree that the people enrolled in the program will be held accountable. And they must be approved to participate by a team of people, including city court officials.
The program is a partnership between the city of Midwest City and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Midwest City will pay about $26,000 for the program through revenue it makes at its jail.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will pay $55,000 for the pilot program. Part of that money will be used to cover the cost of a mental health professional that will have an office at the jail and help with evidence-based screenings and connecting offenders with services. The other part of the money will pay for treatment.
Need for quick treatment
Terri White, the state's mental health and substance abuse commissioner, said there shouldn't be a lag time to get people from the jail into treatment.
“What normally happens in terms of outpatient treatment is — people meet the criteria and are sick enough that they have to be served, or people don't have enough money, and so they're turned away,” White said. “In this case, there's going to be a special small pot of money for treatment for these individuals to demonstrate the success of the program.”
White said her hope is that, after the program proves itself successful, her agency and Midwest City will receive additional funding to expand the program not only in Midwest City but also in other cities across Oklahoma.
“The evidence is very clear about what will happen,” White said. “What we're hoping is that by implementing this, we'll see the outcomes of intervening even earlier, getting people the help they need for their medical conditions, keep them from continuing to end up in police cars and jail cells and then ultimately in the department of corrections, but catching them much earlier, helping them lead full and productive lives, maintaining employment, taking care of their families and being involved in their communities.”