OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — A House Judiciary Criminal Committee met Thursday afternoon to discuss the possibility of putting a pause on executions.
However, the focus was more on programs and solutions to keep people out of prison.
Lawmakers discussed allocating more money into programs that help those dealing with substance or alcohol abuse, rather than continuing to funnel people into county jails or prisons. They want to give them the resources they need to help turn their life around.
“Rehabilitation instead of incarceration is a very important issue in the state of Oklahoma,” Jason Lowe, State Representative for House District 97, said.
Nearly two out of three Oklahomans who need substance abuse or mental health treatment don’t have access to it, according to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use Services. Legislators are hoping to change that.
“We invest about half a billion dollars a year in prisons,” Damion Shade, Executive Director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice, said. “What we actually desperately need is access to mental health and substance use treatment for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans.”
“We address stress in so many different ways,” George Young, State Senator for Senate District 48, said. “One of those is the very reason we are here today. We like to take substances to make us feel different about our lives. But when we come down for those substances, our lives are not changed and we’re still in the same position. Drug court, DUI court diversion programs help us to overcome those moments.”
Legislators want law enforcement to be focused on violent crimes and threats to the community, and people struggling with addiction or mental health to take advantage of programs available.
“We want those folks to be treated with care, with doctors, and with the types of treatment that actually reduce the harm that they see happening to themselves and in their communities,” Shade said.
As we approach the next legislative session, their top priority is helping these individuals who are suffering across Oklahoma.
“Incarceration should not be the number one answer,” Lowe said. “We’ve got to make sure we support these individuals, especially individuals with mental health issues.”
According to OSBI, about one out of every three arrest in 2020 was drug or alcohol related. The next legislative session for the state of Oklahoma is set to begin Feb. 5, 2024.