The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Featured Story

February 1, 2014

Data: Disorders are severe for many mentally ill inmates


The new asylums

In Oklahoma and nationwide, the remark is heard so often, it’s becoming a truism: Prisons now are de facto mental institutions.

But repeating the words hasn’t halted the trend.

“It’s a travesty,” said Robert Powitzky, who retired as chief mental health officer in 2013 after 14 years at the Department of Corrections. “We’re really getting the people society doesn’t want to address.”

As a beginning psychologist in the 1970s, Powitzky said he remembers touring the state’s prison facilities, which were filled with hardened criminals. When he returned to the prisons in the 1990s, they looked like psychiatric hospitals, he said.

“There are some mentally ill people who should be in prison,” Powitzky said. But “50 percent of the inmates with severe mental illness should not be in prison.”

The growing numbers correlate with a decrease in community mental-health services across the state, said Morgan, Powitzky’s successor.

“It’s been steadily increasing for the past five years — during the past couple of years, an even sharper increase in those numbers,” Morgan said. “As the resources in the community and the public have decreased, the mentally ill are coming into prison at a much higher rate.”

Officials in the corrections and mental health fields say they expect the numbers of mentally ill inmates to continue rising unless community programs and alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders with mental-health needs are expanded.

A mental health grade

When a prisoner is brought to the corrections department’s Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, he is evaluated for mental illness symptoms.

The assessment takes into account a prisoner’s mental health history and allows the department to classify his problems, Morgan said. Those with no history or evidence of mental-health problems are classified as “0.” Those with a history of mental illness, but no current symptoms or episodes in the previous year and not in need of psychotropic medication, receive an “A.”

Those who show varying degrees of mental illness and need medications are classified as B, C or D, with D being the most severe cases, Morgan said.

Three prisons in the state specialize in incarcerating offenders with mental illness:  Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, for female inmates; Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, for maximum-security male prisoners, and Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, for community corrections and minimum- and medium-security male prisoners.

When the Harp Center was built in 1978, it had four cell houses. Now it has eight, holding around 1,400 inmates, of whom 500 to 600 fall into one of the B, C or D categories, Warden Mike Addison said.

Unlike most other facilities, Harp has its own mental-health unit, with 120 beds and 30 “safe cells” that have tamper-proof lighting and extra beds for inmates suffering an episode that may endanger themselves or others, Addison said. The facility also has a 100-bed mental-health “step-down” unit that helps a prisoner who suffered an episode ease back into the facility’s general population, he said.

Other prisons around the state, including private ones, will often send offenders who develop mental health issues or have a psychotic episode to Harp, Addison said. However, there often is a waiting list to get into the facility, and other prisons, which usually have only a single safe cell, must make do until bed space becomes available.

“We’re pretty full,” Addison said. “We very seldom have an open bed. And if we have an open bed, someone is usually on their way.”

Text Only
Featured Story
  • Quilts_4_BH_W.jpg History of an art form

    Woven amongst the fabric, patterns and stitches in the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center’s newest special exhibit are stories of past generations.

    July 27, 2014 3 Photos

  • Academy.jpg State prisons expand their reach to train new officers

    On a recent day, a class in the McAlester program was filled with the sounds of bodies thudding onto thick, rainbow-colored pads held together by duct tape, along with heavy breathing and tapping as cadets indicated they’d successfully been subdued.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • FortStillFacility.jpg FBI: No arrests yet in scam targeting migrant kids

    Con artists use private information about the children to contact their family members and demand payment for bogus processing and travel expenses needed to reunite the kids with their relatives. Families with migrants in Texas and Oklahoma have been targeted.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo 4 Stories

  • Child Tax Credit_Hass.jpg House votes to boost child tax credit for some

    With nearly all Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats opposed, the bill cleared the House by a vote of 237-173. The White House threatened to veto the bill, though the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass it.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Oil-Covered Owls_1_JN.jpg Caretaker: One of 2 oil-covered owls has died

    Jean Neal and her husband, Jim, of Fairview, have been caring for the owls since Tuesday, July 22, 2014, when they received them from Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which is investigating the incident and the death of several other birds found at a neglected oil field tank site.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Virginia Storm_Hass.jpg 2 dead, dozens hurt after storm at Va. campground

    "All hell broke loose. We got an emergency message on a cellphone and within 30 seconds, the thing hit and it blew down 40, 50 trees in the park." — Joe Colony, who has been coming to the campground for 30 years

    July 24, 2014 7 Photos

  • money.jpg Affordable Care Act 80/20 rule will provide refunds to many Oklahomans

    According to Alex Kotran, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Oklahoma residents will get $6.7 million in refunds from health insurance companies this summer.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Oil Drilling Earthqua_Hass.jpg Oil company geologist to talk Okla. earthquakes

    Continental Resources' Vice President of Geology Glen Brown will deliver a luncheon address Wednesday to members of the Oklahoma Geological Society.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Disaster 4117 - Logo.jpg Cities, states scramble to spend grant money

    More than half of the federal disaster funds being offered to Oklahoma for recovery from the violent storms of 2013 are in the form of community development grants.

    July 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Health Overhaul Subsi_Hass.jpg Ruling endangers health subsidies

    A 2-1 that could mean premium increases for more than half the 8 million Americans who have purchased taxpayer-subsidized coverage under the federal government and not by state markets.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
AP Video
13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp
NDN Video
Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot
House Ads