Budget cuts to health programs possibly delayed

Posted at 5:48 PM, Oct 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-22 20:15:32-04

TULSA -- Health programs could be saved from devastating budget cuts.

The Oklahoma Speaker of the House announced Friday that a stash of funds could delay the cuts. 

That includes cuts to jail alternatives for people battling addiction or mental health problems. 

Currently, there are 420 people in the drug, alcohol and mental health court program in Tulsa County. Tulsa has the largest program in the state. There are 6,400 statewide.

Those people currently in the program would be stopped midway through their rehabilitation if the cuts were to happen. 

Crystal Hunter, who now works with the treatment program, said it changed her life and she wants others to have the opportunity to change theirs as well.

"I was lost," Hunter said. "I was lost with my kids. I didn't have the right coping skills, tools to deal with everything I was going through." 

Hunter was given the choice of five years in jail or going to drug court by the court system after an arrest. She chose drug court and was put through an 18-month long program.

"Nothing was going to change if I went to prison," Hunter said. "It's a vicious cycle. I would get out and right back into the same thing I was doing." 

She said she learned how to live a normal, productive life through the treatment. Her life and her kids' lives were transformed. 

Tammy Westcott, the division director of the Incarceration Reduction Program for the Community Service Council, said if funding was pulled, they would not be able to continue the drug, mental health or alcohol programs. Keeping many people from having the chance Hunter did.

"More than likely if they are put in incarceration, their children are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, so we are creating generational impact as well," Westcott said.

The likelihood of someone who goes through the drug, alcohol or mental health court program becoming a repeat offender is between eight and ten percent. People who are incarcerated have a 55 percent chance of re-offending in the first two years after their release.

Westcott said it costs about $5,000 every year to put someone through their treatments. Compare that to the $19,000 it costs to house someone in jail for a year. 

"In Tulsa County alone, it would have a negative impact of approximately $10 million per year to taxpayers of our state to incarcerate them rather than sending them to treatment," Westcott said. 

The estimated cost statewide to incarcerate people who would normally go through treatment is $122 million. 

"We already have overcrowded prisons," Westcott said. "There's already over-crowding, over-incarceration. It's time that Oklahoma takes a stand and says that we should have every non-violent offender possible who is in need of substance abuse disorder or mental illness help in a treatment program rather than incarcerated. We could turn our state around."

Westcott said 77 percent of people who go through their alcohol program graduate. More than 60 percent who enter the drug program graduate and more than 55 percent of the mental health program.

Lawmakers still have to find a budget solution by 2018 to avoid the cuts altogether. 


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