Kathy Kelly believes in mental health courts.
Going to one of the first mental health court sessions in Oklahoma helped her end a drug habit of about 25 years and inspired her to help those who need mental health services, the Oklahoma City woman told a crowd gathered yesterday at the state Capitol.
Kelly, 45, said she started taking illegal drugs when she was 11. She was diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder; she refused to take her medicine, but instead took other drugs to help her cope with her condition.
“Everyone in my life had given up on me, including myself,” she said. “At one point, it was either go homeless or be in jail or die.”
She said she eventually became addicted to cocaine and was stealing to support her habit. Arrested on a forgery complaint, she was being held about five years ago in the Oklahoma County jail when a representative of the Oklahoma Mental Health Consumer Council recommended her case be taken up in the county’s recently established mental health court.
Kelly now works for the mental health council. She’s completing a master’s degree in criminal justice. She will be among the speakers during a seminar on alternative sentencing scheduled for May 4 in Oklahoma City.
“Recovery was really hard, but I decided to choose recovery instead,” she said. “It’s not an easy road, but it’s worth it.”
Oklahoma now has 12 mental health courts and 51 drug courts.
The state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department, which has an annual state budget of about $200 million, requested $30 million in new funding for the upcoming fiscal year to increase drug and mental health courts to provide more alternative sentencing possibilities.
Gov. Brad Henry recommended legislators appropriate $20 million. A budget approved last week by lawmakers and awaiting action by the governor does not include any additional funding.
The governor has scheduled a news conference at 3 today to announce whether he will veto any or all of the $6.87 billion budget. He has until midnight today to act on the budget.
Yesterday, he vetoed a $1 million item – which is intended to pay for a performance audit of the prison system – from the $92 million supplemental money for agencies to make it through this fiscal year. The supplemental request is part of the budget package.
Senate co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, told those attending yesterday’s rally to encourage Henry to sign the budget bill. If the governor approves the measure, then talks can begin on funding additional or new programs, he said.
Henry vetoing any part of the bill “would create an interruption of services and I think it would be disruptive to the (budget) process,” Coffee said.
Terri White, named last week as the Mental Health Department’s new commissioner, said she will be asking lawmakers to approve additional funding.