Participation in Oklahoma drug courts is down dramatically and a lack of resources and buy-in from prosecutors is causing problems for developing drug diversion programs.
KFOR spoke to a district attorney in the fall of 2021 about the issue. He said numbers for drug diversion programs that service his county and a few surrounding ones were way down, due to lack of incentive for people to take them.
“I would say the majority of prosecutors across the state of Oklahoma go out of their way to try to get somebody help before they ever send him to prison,” said Grady County District Attorney, Jason Hicks.
With that comment though, he stated some issues he’s seen since the passing and implementation of SQ 780, which brought down penalties for low-level drug possession.
Hicks cited two different drug courts that cover two counties each.
“Our numbers are down for that program significantly since that question 780 passed and that made all drugs a misdemeanor. The incentive for people to enter those programs is gone,” he said.
The Frontier said in their Monday report that felony drug court participation statewide is down 40 percent since 2017 and that these courts were something the state used to rely on to help people with addiction. The Frontier added that program administrators said many counties are now struggling to serve people with misdemeanor charges who may be less motivated to participate without the threat of a felony conviction or imprisonment.
“The good news is there’s these additional diversion opportunities, either for misdemeanor diversion courts in misdemeanor recovery type programs or diversion recovery programs,” said Jeff Dismukes with the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Dismukes said he feels the programs have worked, citing a facts sheet from the department showing the progress of the programs.
The sheet states that of the people who participate only 8 percent of them are re-arrested.
“My hope is that the court personnel, defense attorneys and others will encourage people to take advantage of this opportunity,” Dismukes said.
There are almost 60 operational drug courts in Oklahoma. Dismukes said there are also programs that exist that are not tied back to their funding where communities have done diversion models of their own.