Mental health court connects participants with resources

·4 min read

Jun. 25—A judicial program requires participants to receive mental health resources and other services to avoid jail time.

Pittsburg County is one of 23 counties in Oklahoma to have a mental health court and only one of nine with a juvenile version.

District 18 District Judge Mike Hogan said he created a module for the juvenile mental health court based on similar programs in surrounding states. He submitted it to the Oklahoma Department Mental Health and Substance Abuse and it received approval.

Oklahoma ranks 39th in access to mental health care and 25th overall in prevalence of mental health issues, according to Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing mental health issues.

The state also ranks 40th in prevalence of mental illness in youth and access to care.

Mental health courts are authorized by the Anna McBride Act passed by the Oklahoma legislature and signed into law in 2002 by then-Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.

"Any district or municipal court of this state may establish a mental health court program pursuant to the provisions of this section, subject to the availability of funds," the act states.

Hogan said he volunteered to oversee the adult mental health court in Pittsburg County more than a year ago. He said funding challenges delayed the program's start, but both the juvenile and adult programs are now fully funded.

Pittsburg County Special District Judge Mindy Beare oversees the juvenile court in Pittsburg County with Hogan overseeing the juvenile program in McIntosh County.

"You don't get a lot of juveniles," Hogan said. "But my goal was to hopefully catch an issue when they're younger where you can get treatment started sooner and address something and maybe stop it before it escalates."

To be eligible to participate in the program, participants must agree to plead guilty to their crime as part of a plea deal with the judge having final discretion.

According to the Act, a judge can accept any person charged with a misdemeanor or felony into the program except for those arrested or charged with any violent or major offense and those with prior felony convictions.

People who enter the program sign a contract stating the person will follow the program's rules — like reporting to compliance officers and managers, keeping all appointments for court, treatment, following probation, taking medication, and staying out of legal trouble.

Participants must pass through five phases before being eligible to graduate from the program. Requirements in each phase can be adjusted due to the need of the participant.

Phase one is expected to last a minimum of four weeks and is the orientation and engagement phase where participants must set up their treatment plan and obtain a sponsor and home group.

The second phase is the stabilization phase. Phase three is the "building independence phase."

In order to pass through the first three phases, participants must answer certain questions about what they have learned and their life circumstances.

Phase four is the "transition" phase.

Each of the first four phases requires the participant to attend a certain number of in-person support groups, continue their treatments, conduct daily call-ins, observe curfews, pay program fees, fines and court costs, and complete a certain amount of community service.

In phase five, there is no active treatment plan unless a relapse occurs that will be evaluated on an individual basis. Rules and curfews become less restrictive for participants in phase five.

Each participant must send a petition letter to Hogan that will be read aloud before the judge decides whether to move them forward in the program.

Hogan said getting people employed is a priority.

"My goal is I want them to work in the community. It doesn't matter what, even if they do volunteer work," Hogan said.

Hogan said he sees a difference as participants complete the program with money legally earned.

Not following the rules can lead to the person not moving on to the next phase, having to restart a phase, weekend jail time, or being removed from the program all together with the likelihood of probation being revoked.

To learn more about the state's mental health courts and other services provided by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, visit www.oklahoma.gov/odmhsas.html.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com