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Posted on: November 1, 2018

Change of heart leads woman to jail

Janet Langley

Janet Langley never expected to end up in jail, but it became the next career step following her passion to help people. Sheriff Todd Gibson hired Langley to facilitate evidence-based programs at the Cleveland County jail. Langley started July 1. Gibson said the investment in bringing someone with her qualifications on board will pay off in terms of human lives and in terms of taxpayer dollars. “The jail is a highly complex operation and a very important facility within the county,” Gibson said. “When something affects so many lives, you have to be very intentional to accomplish the most good possible. Using evidence-based programs can transform lives, break the cycle of crime and poverty and save taxpayer dollars in the long-term.” Langley remembers the day she found her passion. She had started her masters in social work and was interning with drug court. “I sat in on a drug court assessment, and it changed my heart,” Langley said. “Up until then I had never wanted to work with anyone who had an addiction issue. I bought into all the beliefs that they just hadn’t hit rock bottom or didn’t want it badly enough.” When she heard someone’s life story of growing up in an addictive household and smoking marijuana as a child, Langley realized a lot of addiction is generational, making it hard for those people to visualize a better life because they’ve never had positive role models. “Everyone starts from a different place,” she said. Langley has a Bachelors of Social Work with minor in Criminal Justice, a background Gibson wanted for the Cleveland County jail, because of the high levels of mental health and drug addiction among jail residents. “One of my top priorities when I took on the job as sheriff was to increase services for people to give them the oppoeruniry to change their lives for the better,” Gibson said. “If we can help connect them with services, we increase the chance that they won’t be back. This is important, not only for those caught up in addiction or suffering from mental illness but for their children and families. We want to give them the tools to break the cycle if they choose.” While the jail isn’t a treatment facility, identifying underlying health risks and addiction is key for connecting them to services and keeping them safe during their stay. Langley is trained to identify addiction and can alert the jail medical staff if an incoming jail resident might experience drug or alcohol withdrawals. “Some people are OK saying, ‘yes, I’ve been using this or that drug,’ but some will deny it to the end,” she said. “For their safety, it’s important to have that information.” Langley is also part of the staffing team with Anna McBride Mental Health Court, Community Sentencing and Cleveland County Drug Court. In that capacity, she shares and receives information about people who are in custody or might be coming into jail custody. Community Sentencing is administered by the District Attorney’s Office and often helps people with less serious charges. “Drug court is different because they want people who have already been convicted of a felony,” she said. “They want the high risk, high needs people who are at risk of doing prison time.” Mental Health Court may include addiction issues, but to qualify, the person must have a mental health diagnosis, she said. Langley believes there is more addiction than officially identified in the offenders she sees come through the system, and, often, mental health issues accompany addiction and drug abuse. “Whether they have a mental health issue and they use or if they use and it causes a mental health issue, a lot of that comes back to substance abuse,” she said. Finding a better way While the county jail has welcomed many faith-based programs over the years, Langley said Sheriff Gibson realized that sometimes faith-based classes alone are not enough, and part of Langley’s job includes teaching evidence-based classes. Faith-based and evidence-based programs are both valuable but offer different things, she said. Langley has been charged with coordinating the various classes to provide a mix of services that will benefit inmates and help prevent recidivism. “What I have been able to do is incorporate two evidence-based classes here to address issues of substance abuse and mental health,” Langley said. Currently, those classes are voluntary. “Every month we put up a signup sheet, and people who are interested sign up for the programs they want,” she said. Classes last about a month. Between 100 and 200 people sign up for classes. All of the programs are space limited, so she tries to expose as many people as she can to the different information with longer term residents rotating through the various classes. Langley teaches a life management class for men and a “Getting Started” class for women. “I’m a certified behavioral health wellness coach,” she said. “I’ve had people who are adamant that they want information, and they want to learn something.” She is also working with a faith- based group that will start literacy classes for jail. Besides improving their quality of life and helping prevent recidivism, classes relieve the boredom of incarceration and provide hope for a better life. “Sometimes we’re able to plant a seed,” she said. To support homeless jail residents, Langley works with the Coordinated Case Management team from the City of Norman. “When they leave the jail, the assessment follows them because the other members of the team can provide services,” Langley said. “It will definitely give them access to services they might not have right now, like housing. If they have a substance abuse disorder or a mental health disorder there are services provided to help them.” Gibson said while it’s always important to help all people in our communities, giving jail residents a start toward a new life can pay dividends for all of us. Diversion programs like drug court and mental health court, for example, have helped transform lives to produce productive members of society, and that’s a big pay-off, he said.

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