Delaware County commissioners have approved a resolution in support of the “Stepping Up Initiative” — to help jail inmates dealing with mental illness.
“The goal is to reduce the amount of mentally ill persons within our jails,” Cassie Neff, program coordinator at the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, told commissioners Thursday.
According to the resolution, more than 50 percent of the jail population in Delaware County reported having a mental illness.
“Adults with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of recidivism than people without these disorders,” the resolution states. “County jails spend two to three times more on adults with mental illnesses that require interventions compared to those without these treatment needs.”
Neff said she’s applied for a grant to analyze how the local criminal justice system handles people with mental illness.
“We have full support of all key stakeholders in the criminal justice system to include all the judges, law enforcement and behavioral health,” Neff said.
“It’s been one of my charges to bring together stakeholders to improve quality of life,” said Sheriff Russell L. Martin. “That includes those people that are incarcerated and we need to integrate back into our communities.”
“We think this is the next step of improving what we have,” said Steve Hedge, executive director of the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health & Recovery Services Board. “We have a lot of good things, but we know we have some gaps in services. We want to continue to improve what we’re doing here in Delaware County.”
“Anything we can do to help people make a transition who have issues, I think is important to the county,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell.
“I think it’s great we’re providing the kind of leadership, recognizing there’s probably a better way of dealing with the challenges we’re facing,” said Commissioner Jeff Benton.
Fellow Commissioner Barb Lewis was also praised for her work with Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, retired Ohio Supreme Court justice, who leads the Transformation Innovation Project, which assists the Stepping Up Initiative.
The Stepping Up Initiative was developed by the Council for State Governments, National Association of Counties, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Stepping Up spokesman Michael Clark said in a news release that Stepping Up made a “national call to action” in May “to encourage counties and jails to work with state and local agencies and stakeholders on an actionable plan” to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. There will be a Stepping Up National Summit next April in Washington, D.C.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.