A state lawmaker has introduced a bill to speed up access to treatment for people found incompetent to stand trial.
Senate Bill 1113, authored by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, would allow people with severe mental illness to receive treatment in county jails instead of waiting for a bed to open up at a state hospital. The bill would also require the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or another provider to begin treatment in jail for people found incompetent to stand trial if a bed doesn’t open up at a state hospital within 30 days.
A Frontier investigation published in June found that dozens of Oklahomans declared incompetent to stand trial waited as long as six months in county jails for mental health treatment, including many charged with only misdemeanor offenses. The story followed the case of Grace Franklin, who had no prior criminal record but was held in county jail for months on a misdemeanor public intoxication charge while she waited for a bed to open up at the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita to restore her competency to stand trial.
Under state law, criminal defendants found incompetent to stand trial must be treated to restore their competency before their court cases can proceed. The Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita is currently the only facility in the state that is designated to treat people with mental illness found incompetent to stand trial. But the waiting list for treatment can be months long.
“The Forensic Center simply doesn’t have enough bed space to meet the demand. For men awaiting competency treatment, there’s a five-month wait, and it’s six months for women,” Bergstrom said in a statement announcing the bill. “Under my legislation, treatment may be made available at the jail, reducing the backlog and ensuring trials can move forward in a more timely way.”
The Oklahoma Legislature is expected to consider SB 1113 in February when it convenes for its 2022 regular session.