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Oklahoma 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 help inmates with mental health issues.

Grand Staffers already help out at the county jail by screening inmates for mental health issues and providing counseling services. But Rogers County Commissioners approved an agenda item during Wednesday’s meeting that will bring in additional staff to meet a variety of needs.

Rogers County Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Sappington said the office is hiring a peer support specialist and an employment specialist.

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

The commander said he injured his knee during a scuffle with a prisoner; upon returning to work, his superior assigned him to the dangerous task despite restrictions on contact with prisoners

The union leader wrote in a letter that officers are forced to work mandatory overtime of 16 hours and sometimes “in significantly fewer than required numbers of officers”

The commander was working a security checkpoint at the Bernalillo County Municipal Jail when an accidental shooting occurred.

If voters pass the bill, it would eliminate mandatory work for state prisoners and instead make work for incarcerated people voluntary.

“They are close to these individuals, and they can gain acceptance and help them access services,” Sappington said. “That will be very beneficial.”

An employment specialist will work with prisoners to find work after their release. Sappington said financial security is one of the main factors encouraging prisoners to avoid reoffending after leaving prison.

County spokeswoman Diana Dickinson said a specialist will remain in contact with released inmates for at least a month.

Dickinson said the county, Rogers County Youth Services and Grand will work together to hire the specialists. She said there has been no word on when the specialists will be hired because Rogers County has not received the money it will use to pay them.

The funding comes from a $289,173 grant from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Rogers County applied for the funding in June.

Initiative aims to address growing mental health issues among prison staff amid staff shortages and budget constraints

Dickinson said the amount is money the state owes the county under State House Questions 780 and 781, approved by voters in 2016.

By approving the questions, voters downgraded several minor drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. They also directed that the money counties would save by reducing the number and duration of incarceration be used for addiction and mental health treatment.

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

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