New program launches to help combat mental illness in jails

Mental illness in jail costs us all: What’s Clark Co. doing about it?

Clark County has joined a national movement to reduce the number of people in jails with mental illness.

According to statistics provided by the Stepping Up Initiative, there are about 2 million people with mental illness who are arrested annually across the country.

But on a smaller scale, about three out of 10 inmates in the Clark County Jail have a mental illness, according to data from Stepping Up.

It’s an issue that costs everyone.

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“They’ve been homeless, they’ve been through emergency rooms, they’ve been through shelters, food pantries — lots of costs to the system and it cycles over and over with very poor outcomes,” said Stepping Up Ohio Director Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.

A kickoff meeting of close to 60 Clark County community members was held on Friday to address the issue. Attendees ran the gamut from local government officials, judges, treatment providers and city and county law enforcement.

Lundberg said all county jails in Ohio have inadvertently become inpatient mental health facilities in addition to their purpose of incarcerating individuals.

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Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett said at the meeting that the jail has no way to treat the mentally ill inmates who are housed there.

There are resources like a psychiatrist and a therapist in the jail, provided through Mental Health Services for Clark and Madison Counties, Inc. and intensive outpatient services provided by McKinley Hall for alcohol and drug problems — but Burchett said that’s still not enough to really combat the problem.

Stepping Up seeks to provide counties with tools and strategies that lead to the measurable reduction of the number of people in jail with mental illness.

Lundberg said a lot of those tools are absolutely free and are just underutilized.

She was impressed by the turnout and collaboration at Friday’s meeting, but Clark County still has a long way to go.

“There’s a lot of work that can be done with identifying persons when they come into a jail, connecting them with services (like housing or treatment), connecting with the same medications they had when they come in,” she said.

During the meeting, she mentioned several other resources like the Ohio Benefit Bank, which links people with programs to meet their basic needs. Lundberg also stressed the need to identify veterans when they are arrested, so they can potentially be placed with assistance from the VA.

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She said the issue is about dollars and cents — but it’s also about human compassion and just taking care of someone who may be struggling.

“Everybody wants to have value in their lives. They want to have a house,” she said. “They want to have meaning in their existence. And if they’re controlled by a mental illness, you don’t even know where to start to get that relief.”

Dr. Greta Mayer, CEO of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties worked in part to bring all of the community members together for the kick off meeting.

“It didn’t take long when individuals came forward within the last year saying we need to do this,” she said.

The next steps after Friday’s meeting will come at another meeting in the next few weeks.

In a process called mapping, attendees will chart out the beneficial resources in the county and start to brainstorm how to form a better interconnected web between them.

“It’s the gaps where people fall through or get caught in a cycle and one system doesn’t realize other systems have been already working with an individual,” Mayer said.

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