News Article Details

Mental health issues clog jails

The Daily Record - 9/4/2017

WOOSTER — People with mental illness are languishing in jail. In fact, according to Ohio’s Stepping Up initiative, which strives to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail, 30 percent of Ohio’s inmates are in that category.

Stepping Up claims that “all 78 county jails have become de-facto inpatient psychiatric facilities.”

Wayne County wants to change the statistics.

At the American Red Cross headquarters in Wooster, a two-day workshop was held to discuss law enforcement issues as they relate to arrests and incarceration of people with mental health problems. It was called “Sequential Intercepts for Change” because, according to Stepping Up, “Within the criminal justice system there are points at which people can be ‘intercepted’ and diverted to the mental health treatment system.”

The workshop drew representatives from the local criminal justice and mental health sectors to strengthen partnerships already existing, or to form additional ones to work together.

The premise, said Judy Wortham Wood, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Wayne and Holmes Counties, was “keeping folks with mental health problems out of jail and the criminal justice system.”

Capt. James Richards, who oversees the Wayne County Jail, said that the local jail is essentially on the frontlines of addressing mental health and addiction concerns, as the two often go hand in hand.

To highlight that point, he referred to statistics kept by the mental health nurse at the jail.

Every individual who spends more than 10 days in the jail undergoes an addiction assessment, Richards explained. Of the 779 people the nurse has assessed this year, 80 percent have some sort of drug or alcohol addiction. Two of every three people she has assessed suffer from some sort of mental health illness, and 46 percent are co-occurring, or suffer from both a mental health and addiction issue.

“I think everyone understands that the jail isn’t a place for people with a severe mental health illness,” Richards said.

He said these are daily issues corrections staff works with at the jail, thereby draining time, manpower, and other resources.

On the second day of the workshop, several areas of concern were assigned to work groups made up of participants, charged with reporting back their findings and potential solutions to the entire group.

For example, The Counseling Center of Wayne and Holmes Counties’ vice president Diane DeRue's group bailiwick was evaluating hospital bed capacity and avoiding hospital stays for clients with mental health issues, in part through potentially supporting them with peers, volunteers and interns when they come to the emergency room.

The goal will require researching different models, DeRue said, and collaborating with emergency room and hospital personnel.

DeRue pointed out support may be a matter of figuring out protocol; for example, the problem of a sexual assault victim, wearing only a gown and feeling vulnerable and exposed, needing to sit for hours in an ER room.

Her group asked, how can mental health professionals assist ER personnel?

Suggestions included “rapport-building with private psychiatric hospitals ... and improving access and continuity of care,” for example, “developing follow-up procedures during hospitalization,” instead of at the last minute when the patient is being discharged.

Coming up with “safe sites” is also a critical need, to avoid “send(ing) a patient in a taxi and dropping them at your door,” DeRue said.

Transportation has been identified as a county deficiency by several groups and organizations, and the lack thereof came up again at the Sequential Intercepts for Change meeting.

It's important to identify what options are out there and to avoid becoming a taxi service, the transportation work group, reported on by Lt. Mike Smucker, corrections division, said.

Many groups and organizations already have transportation vehicles, Smucker said, and peer support and volunteer efforts in using them should be coordinated.

For example, he said, faith-based groups could each take a day of the week, offering "more availability” for clients needing a ride to mental health and other treatment appointments.

“Our county folks are willing to be a support,” said Wortham Wood, referring to the commissioners and other personnel.

Cindy Kuhl, senior probation officer for the Wayne County Common Pleas Court, reported on her group’s discussion about coordinating law enforcement, emergency departments and crisis teams, and putting together the next round of CIT training.

Another group handled the topic of the reentry coalition and service coordination; and like the transportation work group, began with the need to identify what is now available, said Mark Woods, executive director of Anazao Community Partners.

Issues discussed were disseminating pertinent information, increasing participation at coalition meetings, growing client participation at those meetings and getting “the right representatives at the right meetings.”

For all the areas of concern and the action items being developed by personnel from across the county, “it's wonderful we have so many partners,” Wortham Wood said, praising "a job well done so far.”

Criminal defense attorney David Brown, who helped facilitate the workshop, made sure each group had assigned specific people to the issues discussed and scheduled deadlines to report progress toward solutions.

Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at or 330-264-1125, Ext. 2230. She is @lindahallTDR on Twitter. Reporter Steven F. Huszai can be reached at 330-287-1645 or



Driving   Walking/Biking    Get Directions