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Okla. jail to hire peer support, employment specialists with state grant

Grand Mental Health will supply the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department with two specialists to assist inmates with mental health issue

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By Emmet Jamieson
Claremore Daily Progress, Okla.

CLAREMORE, Okla. — Grand Mental Health will supply the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department with two specialists to assist inmates with mental health issues.

Grand staff already aid in the county jail by screening inmates for mental health issues and providing counseling services. But the Rogers County Commissioners approved an agenda item during their Wednesday meeting that will bring in additional personnel to meet different needs.

Jon Sappingtn, Rogers County undersheriff, said the office will hire a peer support specialist and an employment specialist.

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

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“They’re relatable to those individuals, they can get the buy-in and they can help get them to services,” Sappington said. “That’s going to be significantly beneficial.”

The employment specialist would work with inmates to find a job after they are released. Sappington said financial security is one of the major factors in encouraging inmates not to reoffend once they leave incarceration.

County spokesperson Diana Dickinson said the specialist would stay connected to released inmates for at least a month.

Dickinson said the county, Rogers County Youth Services, and Grand would work together to hire the specialists. She said it hasn’t been determined when the specialists would be hired because Rogers County hasn’t received the money it will use to pay them.

Funds are coming from a $289,173 grant administered by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Rogers County applied for the monies in June.

The initiative addresses the growing mental wellness challenges among correctional staff members amid staffing shortages and budget constraints

Dickinson said the sum is money the state owes the county, pursuant to State Questions 780 and 781, both approved by voters in 2016.

In approving these questions, voters downgraded several nonviolent, drug-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. They also mandated the money counties would save from reducing the amount and duration of incarcerations would go toward substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Dickinson said the mental health department must review the application and approve documentation before it approves the grant. Once it disburses the funds to the county, the mental health department will stipulate how the funds must be spent.

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