Franklin County Looks at Mental Illness in Jail
By Jim Hook
Franklin County Commissioners have joined a national effort to reduce the number of people with mental illness who are in jail.
By joining the Stepping Up Initiative, commissioners hope to be in a position to qualify for potential grants and conferences.
“It’s important to raise awareness,” Commissioner David Keller said. “It touches other issues we’re trying to address,” issues such as homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse.
About 75 percent of Americans who are incarcerated and have mental illness also have an issue with drugs or alcohol, according to Stepping Up. The National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation launched the initiative in May 2015. The initiative is to build on innovative and proven practices.
The Franklin County Jail had 461 inmates on Oct. 29, and 69 (15 percent) of them had serious mental illness, according to Commissioner Robert Thomas.
On a typical day in 2007, the county jail housed just 36 inmates who were diagnosed with serious mental illness.
“You need to focus on the issue to get public support,” Thomas said. “Money can solve a lot of issues, but it’s about being smarter with what you are doing.”
A jail will spend two or three times more on an inmate with mental illness than on an inmate who does not require intervention, according to Stepping Up.
Franklin County spends more than three-fourths of its local tax revenue on courts, crime and corrections. The county also administers million of state and federal dollars to care for the mentally ill.
In 2012 the county took over paying a jail diversion program, funded originally in 2009 by the state. The program assures that an inmate with mental illness has medicine, treatment opportunities and peer counseling when released from jail. The aim is to give the person a better chance of staying out of jail.
Franklin County recently began training a local law enforcement Crisis Intervention Team to avoid death, injury and tragedy when dealing with people in crisis.
“I’m impressed with what we’re doing already in Franklin County,” Thomas said. “When I attended the NACo conference, I came back all whizzed up about the issue, and I realized how big an issue it is in Franklin County.”
The county will have up to seven slots at the Stepping Up national conference in April in Washington, D.C.
The stigma of mental illness also is important to address, Thomas said.
“The only time people pay attention to mental illness is when a person goes crazy with a gun,” Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said.
As of Thursday, 198 counties across the U.S. had passed resolutions in support of Stepping Up.
One of them, Franklin County, Ohio, studied mental illness in its corrections system. The Ohio county’s report from May found:
- Compared to people without behavioral health disorders, people with mental illness stay longer in jail (32 days vs. 20 days) and return more frequently to jail (60 percent vs. 51 percent).
- Many people with behavioral health disorders released from jail do not get the treatment and supports they need in the community.