Misdemeanor Diversion Program approved for Okfuskee County
By Ken Childers
The Okfuskee County Court system will soon have a program aimed at helping those who commit certain misdemeanors avoid criminal charges.
In a regular meeting of the Okfuskee County Board of County Commissioners held Monday, District Judge Lawrence Parish asked the board to approve the establishment of a “Misdemeanor Diversion Program” through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“I want to emphasize that this is not drug court,” Parish told the board. “It’s a program in which no charges are filed by the district attorney. It’s more like a deferred adjudication program and it is funded entirely by the mental health department.”
According to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website, misdemeanor diversion programs partner criminal justice accountability with evidence-based substance abuse and mental health treatment services to decrease future involvement with the criminal justice system. The program operates within two models:
1. Misdemeanor Treatment Courts -These programs include, but are not limited to, regular court appearances, case management, supervision, random drug screens, group and individual therapy by certified treatment agencies.
2. Deferred Adjudication Treatment Programs – These programs provide diversion strategies, such as deferred prosecution agreements, as the legal mechanism for participation. The participant receives individualized treatment services provided by certified treatment agencies without the supervision of the court. Treatment providers report to the district attorney when a participant is non-compliant with services. There are currently seven counties operating misdemeanor diversion programs, with an additional nine in planning stages.
With the passage of Oklahoman State Question 780 in 2016, certain non-violent drug and theft-related crimes were changed from felonies to misdemeanors, therefore creating the need for misdemeanor diversion programs.
The contract to establish the diversion program also included the renewal of the drug court program for fiscal year 2021. Drug court gives non-violent felony drug offenders the chance to choose a treatment program instead of jail time. Those who choose to take part in the program are monitored through frequent alcohol and drug testing to encourage total abstinence from drugs.
Drug Court and the Misdemeanor Diversion Program are both funded by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The total cost for FY 2021 is $52,750.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the board approved the appointment of Terry Burden to the Weleetka-Graham EMS Board and approved the following designations of requisitioning officers: Danny Wilson, Dianne Flanders, Stacey Ward and Janet Moore (District One); Terry Wilson, Betty Choate, Dianne Flanders and Stacey Ward (District Two); James Yandell, Casey Lyons, Dianne Flanders and Stacey Ward (District Three); Lori Coplin (Treasurer) and Terry Wilson (District Two Senior Citizens/Rural Fire).
The following were approved as receiving officers: Janet Moore and Steve Beel (District One); Betty Choate and Mike Yocham (District Two); Casey Lyons and Weldon Williams (District Three); Lindsay Willis and Brittany Dyer (Treasurer) and Betty Choate and Mike Yocham (District Two Senior Citizens/Rural Fire).
The board also approved blanket purchase orders totaling $20,720 and claims for items purchased in the amount of $4,313.76. Several financial reports were also approved during the meeting.
The commissioners typically meet each Monday at 9 a.m. on the first floor of the courthouse. All board meetings are open to the public, subject to the COVID-19 restrictions that are currently in place, which include mandatory face coverings and temperature checks.