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Mental-Health Issues an Increasing Challenge for Ohio Jails

In 2015, 15,500 people with mental illness or substance-use disorders were serving time in Ohio's county jails. (Pixabay)
In 2015, 15,500 people with mental illness or substance-use disorders were serving time in Ohio's county jails. (Pixabay)
July 2, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Researchers say access to health and social services are vital to help prevent people struggling with mental health challenges or addiction from ending up behind bars. But are those who are incarcerated receiving the services they need to get back on track?

A new report released by The Center for Community Solutions found in 2015, more than 15,000 people with mental illness or substance-use disorders were in Ohio's county jails. But researcher Tara Britton, director of public policy and advocacy with the center, said jails are not treatment centers.

“[It’s] not what you think a jail would be providing, in terms of people needing to detox from an addiction or people needing expensive and hard-to-manage psychotropic medications while they're in a jail setting,” Britton said.

The cost of caring for these individuals came to about $29,000 per jail, not including the $75,000 in average spending for psychotropic medications.

The findings are the third part of a five-part report series released in collaboration with the Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition, analyzing the intersection between the behavioral-health and criminal-justice systems.

The report outlined recommendations to help jail administrators better address these challenges. Britton said jails need to better ensure they are informed of specific medication regimens, and that staff receive proper training on working with people suffering from mental illness and addiction.

"This is a big problem for the criminal-justice system,” she said. “Making sure that the people who interact with incarcerated individuals who may have things going on with their health, it's really important that they know how to interact with them in a safe and effective way."

Britton said the state has made a concerted effort to enroll those eligible in Medicaid upon their release from prison. But it's not happening as much in county jails.

"That's a really opportune time to connect with a vulnerable population,” she said. “And this helps them access health services once they are released from a jail setting; to help ensure that they have the medications and treatments and things they need to help reduce recidivism, really, in the long-run."

The center used data from surveys of jail administrators and local Alcohol, Drug-Addiction and Mental-Health Services Boards. But the findings do not include those who did not respond. Britton said consistent data collection is needed for a more accurate picture of the scope of the problem.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH