An Inside Look at the Diversion Referral Program at OCDC
In October 2022, the Arnall Family Foundation launched the Diversion Referral Program at Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC). The program aims to bridge the gap between successful programs and eligible individuals, streamlining the transfer of information and reducing the waiting period for people to access these programs.
The Diversion Liaisons meet with eligible persons who are booked into OCDC to conduct a survey and gather key information that is provided to judges, agencies, and other organizations that can assist in connecting people who are released from jail with pre-trial programs, community service providers such as Diversion HUB, TEEM, Hope Community Services, and Bail Project.
Key Objectives of the Diversion Referral Program:
1. Safely reduce the number of individuals being held in OCDC for non-violent offenses, by connecting them to pre-trial programs and inform detainees of available community resources earlier in the process
2. Foster increased communication and collaboration between OCDC and community partners serving justice-involved individuals
3. Assist community partners in gaining increased access to their clients being held at the OCDC
This seems simple enough, but there’s still been some confusion since the program first launched.
It is important to note that while the program supports the work of the Diversion Hub, their purposes differ in terms of helping individuals connect with programs. The Diversion Hub provides case management and justice navigators to connect people involved in the criminal justice system with resources and support to help them gain stability as they become thriving members of the community. On the other hand, the Diversion Referral Program at Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC) seeks to more quickly reduce the number of non-violent offenders in jail through a hands-on process that efficiently link them to pre-trial programs or other relevant organizations.
However, some people working in other areas of the legal system have expressed concerns about the program. For example, the former DA voiced concerns about releasing people who were not supposed to be let out of jail, and there were also questions about the impact of the program on bail and release decisions. It is important to clarify that the Diversion Referral Program does not make decisions on who is released from jail; that responsibility still rests with the judge. Rather, the program aims to connect eligible individuals with pre-trial programs or other relevant organizations, streamlining the transfer of information and reducing the waiting period for people to access these programs.
Who is leading the Diversion Referral team?
The Diversion Liaison Manager, Mable Dixon-Shelton, is truly an awe-inspiring individual whose dedication to the program knows no bounds. With her unwavering commitment to helping those in need, Mable has taken on the responsibility of ensuring that the program reaches its target audience and aids those who require it the most.
As the manager of the Diversion Liaisons stationed at OCDC, she expertly oversees the day-to-day operations of the program, while also serving as the primary point of contact for stakeholders and community partners for any inquiries or concerns related to the program. Her passion and expertise have been instrumental in driving the program’s success and making a positive impact on the lives of those who participate in it.
Mable holds an associate degree in substance abuse counseling from Oklahoma State University, and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice sociology from the University of Central Oklahoma. While her credentials may speak for themselves, she also has a wealth of real-world experience. Prior to working with the Diversion Referral Program, Mable served as a probation and parole officer for the Department of Corrections and the Oklahoma County Juvenile Bureau, worked as a rehabilitation and recovery technician at The Referral Center (now called the Recovery Center), she also held a position as a child welfare specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Human services, worked part time as a mental health technician for Integris Mental Health, and, in 2022, became a court appointed advocate supervisor for CASA Oklahoma County.
Mable leads a team of three highly devoted and enthusiastic Diversion Liaisons who share a strong passion for the Diversion Referral Program. Their commitment to the program’s mission is unwavering, serving as a shining example of the transformative power of second chances. Together, they work tirelessly to improve the lives of those impacted by the criminal legal system in Oklahoma County and to create a brighter future for the community they serve.
Challenges and Successes
Mable recently shared some of the biggest challenges and successes the Diversion Liaison team is facing. She emphasized the importance and difficulty of building rapport with both detainees and staff at OCDC, especially since the program is still relatively new.
Given that, over the last 30+ days, much of the team’s efforts have been focused on building relationships. The current Interim CEO, Major Brandi Gardner, has been working closely with Mable and her team. Out of this challenge has come a success in building great relationships with OCDC staff who have their back. She points out there are many of those staff members who will stay late if they must or will call Mable when they’re not at work to handle issues happening at the detention center.
One major success noted by Mable was the increased collaboration and communication among diversion-related entities, such as the Bail Project, TEEM, and HOPE Community Services. The survey information obtained from detainees by Diversion Liaisons has helped the Bail Project more than double their releases, thus doubling their ability to assist people currently detained at OCDC. The Diversion Liaisons are also a big referral source for the Opt Up program at Hope Community Services, which was created to address a city-wide gap in services for individuals who more frequently cycle in and out of OCDC.
Another major win for the team has been the opportunity to work alongside the newly elected Oklahoma County DA, Vicki Behenna. Mable praised Behenna’s involvement and support of mental health resources, as well as her active participation in subcommittee meetings. Having an involved District Attorney is critical to improving the county’s criminal legal system, and Mable can attest to Behenna’s presence and importance in these efforts.
Mable also counts each small win as big ones, such as providing release packets with bus passes and maps to HOPE Community Services and other programs and providers. While there are still many challenges and successes to come, Mable and her team remain committed to improving the lives of those impacted by the criminal legal system in Oklahoma County.
A Beacon of Hope
The Diversion Referral Program at Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC) aims to safely reduce the number of folks with non-violent offenses being held in OCDC by connecting them to pre-trial programs or other organizations that can assist them. This program fills the gap between existing successful programs and eligible individuals, expediting the handoff of information and decreasing the amount of time an individual typically must wait to be connected to these programs.
We hope the Diversion Referral team becomes a beacon of hope for individuals who have found themselves in the criminal legal system. With their unwavering dedication to providing access to resources and support, they have made significant strides in improving the lives of those impacted by incarceration. The team is keenly aware of the challenges faced by non-violent offenders and remains steadfast in their commitment to safely reducing the number of individuals held in the Oklahoma County Detention Center. We will continue to keep the community updated on the Diversion Referral Program.