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Rise in mentally ill inmates cause for concern, sheriff says

Most not eligible for placement because they are violent offenders and considered dangerous
by Tim Willert Published: July 14, 2013

Years of alcohol abuse have taken a toll on Harold Hardesty, who once absorbed a hammer to the head in an argument over a bottle of whiskey.

Run-ins with the law, usually when drunk and disorderly, landed Hardesty, 58, in the Oklahoma County jail, where he remained for more than a year despite being diagnosed with alcohol-related dementia.

Until Thursday, when a judge signed an order placing him in a nursing home, Hardesty was one of approximately 350 inmates diagnosed with mental health issues, according to Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel.

Unlike Hardesty, most of the mentally impaired inmates are not candidates for nursing home care because they are violent offenders accused of committing major felony crimes.

Most of those crimes, Whetsel said, were committed because offenders “were off their medication” or “were a result of their mental health issues.”

The sheriff attributes the rise in mentally ill inmates to state funding cuts that resulted in a reduction in mental health facilities and services and forced some hospitals to close their psychiatric wards.

“You have seen an increase is jails across the state with mental health inmates that should be in a facility getting mental health care, that should be getting bed space,” Whetsel said. “I don't think county jail was ever intended to be a mental health facility.”

Loopholes in state law

Like Hardesty, who languished in the jail for more than a year, inmates wait until they go to trial or are ruled incompetent.

Some are put out on the street because of loopholes in state law that does not require state mental health facilities to find placement.

Those who are not competent and not considered dangerous cannot be confined by law, Oklahoma County First District Attorney Scott Rowland said.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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