School safety commission eyes Kendra's Law
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
OKLAHOMA CITY — As the Oklahoma Commission on School Safety narrows down the program it will present to the Legislature next month, a 1999 New York statute — Kendra’s Law — is getting a lot of attention.
“I think that’s something we absolutely ought to pursue and look at,” Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, chairman of the commission, said recently.
Lamb said he had used a similar process through the federal court system when he was a Secret Service agent and it could be an important tool for protecting the public.
Kendra’s Law would make it easier for judges to force some mentally ill people to accept treatment as a condition of living in the community.
Under current state law, mentally ill people in Oklahoma can be involuntarily committed if they pose a risk to themselves or others. Kendra’s Law would also allow some mentally ill people to be committed for up to 72 hours if they don’t maintain a treatment regimen, typically medications.
The commission — which was formed shortly after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school — is scheduled to hold its next-to-the-last meeting Wednesday. The panel is scheduled to approve its legislative platform on March 5.
Lamb said there are important civil rights concerns that need to be considered in the debate over bringing Kendra’s Law to Oklahoma, but the issue deserves close consideration by the commission.
The New York statute was passed after a series of violent incidents involving people with untreated mental illness. The law’s namesake — Kendra Webdale — died after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train by a schizophrenic man.
Oklahoma Mental Health Commissioner Terri White said the law would only apply to a small fraction of the mentally ill — those who have posed a danger to themselves or others, have repeated histories of hospitalizations or incarcerations, and have failed to maintain treatment.
“I think it’s important for people to remember that people with mental illness are less likely to be violent than the general population. It’s just that typically when there is violence, it’s sometimes headline-grabbing,” White said. “People with mental illnesses are raising families, they’re leading companies, they’re policymakers.”
It’s difficult to say how many Oklahomans such a legal change would apply to, White said.
But the mental health budget doesn’t include money to treat a large new population from the court system, she said.
Seventy percent of the Oklahomans in need of treatment for mental illness aren’t getting it, White said.
Read more in Wednesday's Tulsa World.