Previously published in the Ohio Forensic Newsletter and the Ohio Judicial Conference Newsletter. Republished with permission.
LISW, Chief, Office of Forensic Services, Ohio Department of Mental Health.
Manager, Mental Health Diversion Alternatives, Ohio Department of Mental Health.
This is the second 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 for that purpose. This article, written by members of the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on the Mentally Ill, addresses jail diversion programs funded by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
Too often, attention to the relationship between mental health and criminal justice comes after the occurrence of a tragedy. Ohio is taking a more proactive course.
Judges and others in the criminal justice system well recognize the "revolving door syndrome" in which people with histories of mental illness are arrested for committing minor and nonviolent offenses. They serve their time and are released, only to quickly return to the criminal justice system again and again. Where appropriate, these individuals are better treated in the mental health system.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH), recognizing that a disproportionate number of mentally ill persons are being placed in jails, has made mental health diversion a priority. In April 2000, we awarded 13 grants to communities to establish programs to identify mentally ill offenders, divert them from the criminal justice system where appropriate, and link them to community mental health services. The awardees were asked to develop diversion programs that could occur at any stage of the criminal justice process. Annually, ODMH awards $692,157 to all of the projects. Most of the projects also contribute local funding to cover the costs of implementation.
A major objective was to decrease the use of jail bed days for mentally ill offenders. Our hope was that treatment services would help individuals recover and avoid future problems with the law. The following summarizes the current status of our programs.
Athens County has implemented a modified Memphis Model Crisis Intervention Team program with police in Nelsonville, Athens and the Ohio University. This is a pre-booking program where police drop off persons, identified as mentally ill, at an eight-bed crisis unit. This program has served more persons with alcohol and drug problems than those persons with severe mental disabilities, but the program has successfully kept some people out of jail that do not need to be there and has served 59 people thus far.
This program builds on existing efforts to improve assessments, in-jail services, community linkages, and diversion alternatives. This pre and post-booking program has a case manager that initiates contact with mentally ill persons in jail, and then follows them into the community after release. Fifty-six people have been served in the program. Law enforcement has been difficult to engage in training on mental health issues.
This program is a collaboration of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board, Clermont Counseling Center, Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime (TASC), adult probation and Cincinnati Health Foundation. A mental health case manager and specialized probation officer, funded by the Cincinnati Health Foundation, provide a team approach to serve persons with both a mental health and substance abuse diagnosis. The program receives referrals from both common pleas and municipal courts, and provides jail screening for pre- trial referrals, advice to courts, and post-sentence supervision.