Risks and costs
The daily dispensing of psychiatric medications can create problems in prisons.
One of the biggest at Harp is inmates not taking their medications or trading the drugs to fellow prisoners for other items, said Addison, the warden.
Lynn Powell, director of the advocacy group Oklahoma CURE, said her group has received reports of prisoners not getting their psychotropic medications when being moved between facilities or when the medication runs out.
This has resulted in prisoners going without medication for a month or more, Powell said. The situation appears to have improved, but she’s not sure what will happen if the agency’s funding remains tight.
Addison said the growing use of psychiatric drugs also drives up costs.
“We give out a lot of medication,” she said.
While the corrections department has a formulary, or a list of pre-approved drugs to prescribe for certain conditions, mental-health professionals can prescribe drugs off-formulary if an inmate is not showing improvement. There is no set budgetary limit on prescribing medications prisoners may need, Morgan said.
“If it’s needed, it’s ordered,” she said. “We don’t have a limit on what we can do in that area.”
But prison drugs are not the answer to Oklahoma’s mental-health issues, various officials said.
Corrections and mental health professionals say an increase in mental health resources is needed to address Oklahomans’ needs before they wind up in prison. State cuts to treatment centers and other programs have lowered the odds a person will get treatment before coming into contact with law enforcement, Morgan said.
“I definitely think if there were more resources in the community, it would help decrease the number of mentally ill people coming into prison,” Morgan said.
Northcare, a mental health nonprofit in Oklahoma City, has several programs aimed at addressing the problem, including working with mental health courts and diversion programs in jails, said Randy Tate, chief executive officer. Offenders who are given such help have a high success rate, but only a few, mostly non-violent offenders go through the programs, Tate said.
“I think we produce more prison-bound people all the time,” Tate said. “We have a lot of things in Oklahoma that create cycles of trauma” such as high rates of sexual abuse, child abuse and teen pregnancy.