Ohio initiative aims to reduce number of inmates with mental illness

DELAWARE, OH (WCMH) — Keeping more people out of jail is the goal of a national initiative Ohio is now leading. It aims to reduce the number of inmates with mental illness.

Supporters of the ‘Stepping Up Initiative’ said not every offender should be locked up. A former inmate said she’s proof treatment works.

Karin Humphrey never wants to go back to prison. “I have 19 felony convictions on my record,” she said.

For years she struggled with addiction and emotional demons. “Whatever I needed to do to get drugs, use drugs, stay high, stay out of myself, I was willing to do.”

It wasn’t until she got treatment she said she finally got sober. “Sticking people in a jail cell is not taking care of one another, it’s not helping the problem. It’s making it worse.”

Eight years later she now works at the community based correctional facility that helped her get clean and stable.

Executive Director David Ervin said not everyone needs to go to prison. “They don’t need to be incarcerated. They need to be in a program that is going to provide them what they need, medication and counseling,” said Ervin.

That’s the goal of the program. “We’re willing to come together in a collaborative effort to try and problem solve this really to help the entire community,” said Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin.

Delaware County said everyone stands to benefit. “Treatment is twice as effective in the community and one third the cost as opposed to treating these individuals in jail,” said Kassie Neff with the Delaware County Jail.

Humphrey sees herself in the offenders she now works with. She hopes for them, it might be different. “Hopefully some people don’t have to go what I went through to get to where I am today,” she said.

Ohio just held a local ‘Stepping Up Initiative’ summit here in central Ohio, the first state in the nation to host one.

Alternative treatment options for offenders can include counseling, hospitalization and alcohol and drug treatment programs.

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