Budget does not include money for treatment and mental health programs mandated by voters

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The Oklahoma Capitol BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier
An $8.1-billion budget plan on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk does not include any money for a fund approved by Oklahoma voters to provide more substance abuse and mental health services.

Stitt had initially called for $10 million in appropriations for the voter-mandated County Community Safety Investment Fund as part of his 2020 budget proposal. The governor even mentioned the funding in his first State of State address in February as part of his commitment to criminal justice reform.

The Oklahoma Senate voted to approve the budget package on Tuesday, which includes about $33 million for what Legislative leaders say are criminal justice reforms. The bulk of that money — $20.1 million — will go to better fund district attorneys offices in the state in order to reduce their reliance on offender fines and fees.

What the 2020 budget doesn’t include is any funding for the County Community Safety Investment Fund. Oklahoma voters approved the fund in 2016 as part of a package of criminal justice reforms known as State Questions 780 and 781.

The ballot measures were promoted as a way to divert more non-violent offenders away from prison and into substance abuse and mental health programs. This was the first year the Legislature could have directed any state appropriations to the fund. 

Instead, Stitt decided that money could be better spent on the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ Smart on Crime program, Baylee Lakey, the governor’s communications director said in an email

The ODMHSAS program is geared toward diverting people with mental illness and addiction from the criminal justice system through intervention and treatment. To date, the program has already received about $16 million in state money and the 2020 budget includes $10 million in additional funding. ODMHSAS had initially asked for about $91 million in funding for the program as part of its 2020 budget proposal.

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“The governor’s priority in his State of the State was to increase the state’s investments in diversion programs, drug courts, and other opportunities to help give Oklahomans a second chance,” Lakey said. “During budget negotiations, it was decided that the best place to currently invest the $10 million the governor requested is with the Department of Mental Health’s Smart on Crime diversion programs. This is just the beginning, and the governor will continue to monitor funding and work to ensure we are maximizing resources to change Oklahoma’s number one ranking in incarceration.”

Savings from criminal justice reform was supposed to fuel county treatment programs

SQ 780 changed drug possession and some minor property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. A companion measure, SQ 781, called for the state to calculate how much money Oklahoma had saved from SQ 780 and put it into a fund for counties to use for substance abuse and mental health services.

In keeping with the law, the state’s Office of Enterprise Management in July estimated that the SQ 780 reforms had already diverted more than 9,000 people from the prison system and saved Oklahoma $63.5 million for the 2018 fiscal year.

However, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and other critics have said those figures were grossly inflated and based on flawed calculations.

Budget includes more funding for other addiction and mental health programs

The 2020 budget does include more funding for other addiction and mental health program in the state. These include $1.5 million for Women in Recovery, a public-private partnership that helps women battling addiction and $1.7 million to expand drug court programming in the state.

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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