Okla. prison to hire peer support and employment specialists with state grant

Okla. prison to hire peer support and employment specialists with state grant

By Emmet Jamieson
Claremore Daily Progress, Oklahoma.

CLAREMORE, Okla. — Grand Mental Health will provide the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department with two specialists to assist inmates with mental health issues.

A large staff already helps out at the county jail by screening inmates for mental health issues and providing counseling services. But the Rogers County Commissioners approved an agenda item at their meeting Wednesday that will bring in additional staff to meet various needs.

Rogers County Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Sappingtn said the office will hire a peer support specialist and an employment specialist.

The peer support specialist would not be licensed as a counselor, but would use experience dealing with mental health issues to help inmates. Sappington said this person could reach an inmate when licensed counselors fail.

Otis Bantum Correctional Center

The CO said he injured his knee during a struggle with an inmate; when he returned to work, his supervisor assigned him to a dangerous task despite restrictions on contact with inmates.

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The union president said in a letter that COs are forced to work 16 hours of mandatory overtime and sometimes work with “far less than the required number of officers.”

Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center

The CO was working at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center’s external security checkpoint when the accidental shooting occurred

Mule Creek State Prison

If voters approve the proposal, mandatory work for state prisoners would end and jobs for prisoners would instead become voluntary.

“They’re relatable to those individuals, they can get the buy-in and they can help get them to services,” Sappington said. “That’s going to be significantly beneficial.”

The employment specialist would work with inmates to find jobs after they are released. Sappington said financial security is one of the most important factors in encouraging inmates not to reoffend after they are out of prison.

Region spokeswoman Diana Dickinson said the specialist would remain in contact with released inmates for at least a month.

Dickinson said the county, Rogers County Youth Services and Grand would work together to hire the specialists. She said it has not yet been determined when the specialists will be hired because Rogers County has not yet received the money it uses to pay them.

The funds come from a $289,173 grant administered by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Rogers County applied for the money in June.

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The initiative addresses the growing challenges to mental wellbeing among prison staff amid staff shortages and budget constraints

Dickinson said the amount is money the state owes the county, pursuant to State Questions 780 and 781, both of which were approved by voters in 2016.

By approving these questions, voters downgraded several nonviolent, drug-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. They also mandated that the money counties would save by reducing the number and length of incarcerations would go toward substance abuse and mental health services.

Dickinson said the mental health department must review the application and approve documentation before the grant is approved. Once the funds are disbursed to the county, the mental health department will determine how the funds should be spent.

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