Republished with permission.
Deputy Director, NorthEast Ohio Community Alternative Program.
This is the fifth article in a series about effectively dealing with mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system. Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Supreme Court of Ohio, has had a longtime interest in developing solutions to this problem and has formed the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mentally Ill in the Courts. This article highlights the NorthEast Ohio Community Alternative Program (NEOCAP), which now provides an intense comprehensive treatment program that addresses chemical dependency, employment, education, medical, housing, and legal and cognitive behavioral issues with all offenders.
Consider a typical case. Jim is diagnosed with schizophrenia while he is in juvenile court. As he becomes an adult, his mental illness grows worse, and he loses contact with his family. Unable to find work, Jim turns to crime. With what little money he has, he finds that drinking helps stop the voices in his head. One day, Jim is spotted on a busy city sidewalk pacing back and forth, gesturing and talking to himself. Onlookers observe Jim knock out a window and climb into a city building. Officers arrest him for disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and breaking and entering. Jim's lawyer recognizes that Jim is mentally ill, but believing it is best for his client to keep his involvement with the criminal justice system to a minimum, he encourages Jim to plead guilty. Jim serves a short jail sentence and is discharged in the middle of the night. He still has no place to live, no medications for his illness, no doctor, no insurance, and no food. Two weeks later he is picked up again for theft and finds himself back in jail.
Jim's story illustrates the revolving door problem that has developed in this country where jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health system of our day. But if Jim had been arrested in Trumbull, Portage, Lake, Geauga, or Ashtabula County, Ohio, his luck might have changed. Those five counties are fortunate enough to have a Community- Based Correctional Facility that treats offenders with both mental illness and substance abuse problems. It is helping people like Jim.
Community-Based Correctional Facilities (CBCFs) are residential programs that provide comprehensive treatment for offenders on felony probation. They provide an in-house alternative to jail or prison. CBCFs...