County officials: Mental illness is a huge drain on resources for central Ohio jails

DELAWARE, OH (WCMH) — Ohio county jails have largely become mental health institutions, according to county officials. The toll this takes on families and the costs to taxpayers are staggering.

But a national Initiative called Stepping Up Ohio is working with counties to assess those with serious mental illness and treat them or refer them to the appropriate facility.

Delaware County Jail is one of a couple in Central Ohio that screen people arrested to divert those with severe mental illnesses to treatment facilities instead of a jail cell.

Justin Volpe said his serious mental illness is now being successfully treated with medication and other treatments, but a decade ago he was busted on an out-of-state felony and locked up in Miami’s Dade County jail.

“It was an awful situation, there were people screaming around the clock, it was 50 degrees and correction officers were constantly beating people down,” Volpe said.

Delaware and Franklin County officials said they have incorporated the Stepping Up Initiative Ohio to avoid those type of mental health horror stories. Volpe spoke before hundreds of Ohio county employees and his experience and the initiative.

One of the new steps used in law enforcement is by training deputies to deal with serious mental illness early on.

“So before bring them to jail, they take them to the appropriate treatment, whether that is the local hospital for evaluation or the or directly to the state hospital,” said Sot Kassie Neff, Program Coordinator for the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office. She said they screen every person transported to the jail, not only for mental illness, but if they are a veteran, drug dependent and have been human trafficked.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton has been a driving force behind the Stepping Up initiative, and has helped counties find funding.

“When people who are mentally ill get in jail they get worse, and I have sheriff after sheriff say they take 90 percent of their jail resources,” said Stratton.

She and Volpe spoke to the audience about the initiative and the advantages to local counties.

“My hope is the same hope for my 6-yr-old son, that somebody’s family doesn’t have to experience what I’ve experienced,” said Volpe. “Since then, that was 10 years ago, I have not gotten into trouble, I have played an active role in the community and I am now a current employee of the Dade County Court,” he said.

Franklin County jails have also been assessing and treating individuals where officials say 37 percent of all inmates in their jail have mental illness. Deputy Chief Geoff Stobart said of those, 80 – 83 percent have serious mental issues. The county recently hired 27 new assessment employees to screen incoming arrestees for mental health and drug addiction issues.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has also been in the forefront in training Crisis Intervention Training CIT, for deputies and correction officers.

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