Local officials from different departments and agencies attended a meeting to discuss addressing the issue of mental illness in jail facilities Tuesday.
Officials learned about the Ohio component of the Stepping Up initiative during a two-hour presentation with the program’s state officials.
Stepping Up is a national initiative aimed at reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.
The national movement was launched in 2015 by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation with support from the U.S. Justice Department Bureau of Justice Assistance to help people with mental illness and substance use disorders stay out of jails and on a path to recovery.
In Ohio, the initiative is funded by Peg’s Foundation, a private, philanthropic organization aimed at creating opportunities for sharing knowledge, promoting partnerships and inspiring improvements in the behavioral health system, according to the foundation’s website.
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton is the project director for the Ohio Stepping Up initiative.
Instead of addressing mental illness in jails on a county-by-county basis, Stratton said, Ohio is tackling the problem on a statewide basis. Including Champaign County, there are currently 45 counties in Ohio participating in the initiative.
“We have a statewide committee called the steering committee with 32 organizations that collaborate and then we do these county visits like we did here because it’s a chance for everybody to meet, talk, learn about each other, learn about a lot of things they could do for free that they might not have been aware of,” Stratton said. “It’s a real exciting opportunity to get them going, but the focus is trying to reverse the cycle of persons with mental illness in jail and get them into treatment instead.”
Stratton said jails and prisons are the largest mental health facilities in Ohio, creating a de facto mental health system without the proper resources or training.
According to information provided at Tuesday’s meeting, every year there are an estimated two million people with serious mental illnesses admitted to jails and almost three-quarters of adults with serious mental illnesses in jails have co-occurring substance use disorders.
In Ohio, as many as 30 percent or more of people in jail have mental illnesses.
Adam Sorensen, director of treatment and recovery services for the Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties, said Champaign County became involved in the initiative several months ago following county commissioners approving a resolution to join the initiative.
Stratton said the goals for Tuesday’s meeting were to kick off the initiative in the county, discuss potential options to address the issue and to get the different officials to start collaborating on solutions.
A wide variety of local leaders were in attendance Tuesday including county commissioners, local judges, law enforcement officers, representatives from the medical field and representatives from other social service agencies. Those in attendance spoke with members of the state steering committee about the current jailing process and resources used to address mental health currently.
“I was very pleased at the cross section here,” Stratton said. “It’s important to have judges, it is important to have the prosecutor, the providers, the (county) commissioners and you had all that here and so that’s a real important mix because everyone of them plays an important role and if you’re missing some of them then you’re missing that piece.”
Sorensen said bringing different local systems and leaders together is important to determine what is needed locally to improve outcomes while saving money and having a more efficient system.
Moving forward from this meeting, Stratton said Champaign County leaders need to develop a steering committee who will take the ideas shared by the state and make sure the ideas are implemented locally into the respective systems.
“I’m a firm believer that if you don’t make it local and get local buy-in, something forced down to them from the state may not work, may not fit the local resources or the talent pool or the leadership, so I think county-driven is very important,” Stratton said. “Forty-five different counties all have something else they focus on that works really well and then we educate the other counties on what they’re doing and share that idea and keep spreading it. They’re like a great microcosm of different and better ways to deal with mental illness in the jails and then we share those with the other counties so it’s a very important process.”
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777.