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Editorial: New law treats people in mental health crises as patients, not prisoners

Editorial: New law treats people in mental health crises as patients, not prisoners

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Senate Bill 3 passed both chambers of the Legislature without a single no vote. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed it into law last week.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed legislation that will improve the way law enforcement handles people in mental health crises.

The change should improve the situation for everyone involved.

Under previous law, police and deputies in some parts of the state had few alternatives for dealing with people in mental health crises but to take them to jail, said Sen. David Bullard, the author of Senate Bill 3.

Bullard’s bill, crafted over the course of three years and two interim studies, explicitly authorizes police to connect the those people to mental health professionals using telemedicine, a practice that is already in place in some parts of the state.

In many cases, the mental health professional on the other side of the telemedicine link will be able to get the person in a better state and connected to appropriate aftercare, ending the incident.

If further assessment is needed, the new law provides for law enforcement to take the person to an appropriate facility within 30 miles.

After than assessment, if the mental health provider determines the patient is a danger to himself or others and needs to be held, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment will transport the patient to an in-patient facility.

Under previous law, that second level of transportation was the responsibility of the police, and it sometimes had officers off the streets for hours.

Follow-up legislation will give the mental health department additional funding to pay for the new transportation responsibilities.

For people in mental health crises, the change should humanize the situation — putting them in the charge of mental health professionals, not police officers.

For law enforcement, it will mean less time transporting people and more time on the streets.

Everyone comes out ahead.

SB 3 passed both chambers of the Legislature without a single no vote. It was an obviously needed reform that no one was willing to take the time to fix, until Bullard did.

People in mental health crises are ill. They deserve to be treated like patients, not prisoners. That’s the idea behind SB 3.

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Wayne Greene reads the April 25 Tulsa World editorial, “We're skeptical about initial plans for a new home for city courts, jail and public safety leadership”

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