Mental illness affects 30 percent of all inmates in Ohio jails, triggering a growing public health crisis and avalanche of unnecessary costs to taxpayers.
Stepping Up, a state and national collaborative effort led here by former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, is attacking the problem by reducing the number of people with mental illness who recycle through the revolving door of jails, prison and mental health institutions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio, the leading advocate for the mentally ill and their families, has been a Stepping Up partner with Stratton since the beginning.
The overall goal of Stepping Up is to help criminal offenders get clinical treatment and other services for mental health illnesses so they can “get well, make positive changes life changes, and stay out of jail.” At the same time, treatment in lieu of incarceration can potentially save millions of dollars in unnecessary expense for jails.
Justice Stratton, who served on the Ohio Supreme Court from 1996 to 2012 after starting her judicial career on the Franklin County Court Common Please, has spent 30 years focusing on the problems of mental ill offenders caught up in the criminal justice system.
“I think the best explanation of Stepping Up is that people are often in jail because of their mental illness. Many of these people are sick, they’re not criminals,” Justice Stratton said. “Our mental health care system has never been adequately funded. Jails end up as the de facto mental health system.”
However, jail operators are not mental health professionals, she said, and don’t have the skills, time and resources to adequately help mentally ill patients in their care. That results in many offenders cycling repeatedly through the criminal justice system, without getting help eroding precious resources.
Ohio’s 78 jails serve in a way as psychiatric facilities at a cost of $41.7 million annually. Nationally, 2 million people with serious mental illness are admitted to jails each year, costing taxpayers two to three times as much as other offenders.
The Ohio program is linked to the national Stepping Up program begun in 2015 by the Council of State Government and other entities.
However, Justice Stratton, who is the child of foreign missionaries, became interested in mental illness in the criminal justice system three decades ago. Her first experience, she said, involved a deaf mute offender who came back again and again to her Common Pleas courtroom. She realized then and there that something needed to be done to help people with mental illness better navigate the system.
Eventually, Justice Stratton gave up her seat on the Supreme Court to pursue her goal of improving outcomes for the mentally ill in the criminal justice system.
Delaware County is among several Ohio counties participating in Stepping Up. The sheriff’s office helped establish the first “sober house” in the county to benefit ex-offenders with substance abuse issues in a residential setting, explained Kassie Neff, criminal justice program manager for Sheriff Russell Martin
“Stepping Up has made a huge impact in Delaware County. We have expanded on our already existing programs,” Neff said. Agencies are collaborating and there is a willingness to come together and put differences aside. The county jail is now screening all incoming offenders for both mental health substance abuse issues to help guide them to treatment and programs whenever possible.
One measure of success in Delaware County, Neff said, is a reduced rate of recidivism, which is the rate at which ex-offenders come back to jail on new or modified charges. Offenders in Stepping Up come back to jail at a 30-percent rate compared to the 60-percent recidivism rate for non-participants, she said.
One specific case study in Delaware County showed the financial value of Stepping Up, Justice Stratton and Neff said. A chronic offender who had been cycling through the criminal justice system for eight years cost the county and other agencies $644,357 over the eight years. By comparison, providing housing and mental health services to the same individual would have cost taxpayers an estimated $198,522, producing a net savings of $445,835 in
Best of all, Neff said, she sees offenders improving their lives.
“I work with these people. I know these people. I see them getting better.”
Justice Stratton sees statewide improvements in how the mentally ill are treated in the criminal justice system through the creation of 280 drug and specialized courts and 14,000 officers in law enforcement now trained to handle mental health patients in crisis. There is greater cooperation and collaboration among agencies and important information is being shared, not kept in silos, she said.
Luke Russell, deputy director of NAMI Ohio, said the organization’s mission is to “improve the quality of life, and ensure dignity and respect for person with serious mental illness, and this includes the 30 percent of folks incarcerated in the jail system.”
“NAMI Ohio has been a partner from the beginning, and we believe the growth of this program has and will divert individuals with serious mental illness into more appropriate and less costly treatment options,” Russell said. “We are proud to be on the core team of Stepping Up, and we know the stories of individuals and families that have benefitted from a system open to alternatives and increase treatment options for those with serious mental illness.”
More information about Stepping Up is available online at https://mha.ohio.gov/Schools-and-Communities/Criminal-Justice/Stepping-Up.
NAMI Ohio, “the state’s voice on mental illness” is governed by a 28-member board of directors. There are six members from four different regions of the state; three At-Large members and a Consumer Council representative. This is a very diverse group of members consisting of various genders, race, social-economic backgrounds, people living with mental illness and family members.
In May 2020, NAMI Ohio recognized that there is disparity in healthcare, especially mental health care. There is a giant gap in care as it relates to African Americans.
Over the past two and a half months, a number of meetings have been held and quite frankly, some of those meetings were uncomfortable. The board members discussed issues and how each of our lives are so different. NAMI Ohio is proud to present our Social Justice Statement that not only identifies our position but, more importantly, will guide our commitment to enhance our advocacy, education, and support in these under-served communities.
As you will see in this statement, we are asking all Ohioans to join us to eliminate public policy and societal practices which perpetuate prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination resulting in inequities and mental health disparities.
This statement was approved at the NAMI Ohio board meeting held Saturday, August 22nd. Today, we start our journey on this extremely important issue. We are excited that we have an opportunity to make change.
NAMI Ohio Social Justice Statement
NAMI Ohio is the voice for all Ohioans with mental illness regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, language, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The impacts of structural and systemic racism on the mental health needs of Ohioans who are Black, indigenous, and people of color are real and devastating. The emotional, psychological, and physical manifestation of trauma negatively impact mental health and lead to mental health disparities. We believe that all individuals including communities of color and people with mental illness must be treated with respect and dignity and receive equitable health outcomes and full inclusion. NAMI Ohio denounces racism and racial discrimination in all its forms. As Ohio’s voice for mental illness, we will take action to make change through word and deed. We ask all Ohioans to join us to eliminate public policy and societal practices which perpetuate prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination resulting in inequities and mental health disparities.
A new three-digit number – 988 – to call when people are experiencing mental health emergencies has been signed into law by President Trump.
The 988 number IS NOT expected to be operational until July 2022. It will join 911, the well-known, nationally used number for health, police and fire emergencies.
The Federal Communications Commission previously selected and approved 988 and Congress passed a bipartisan bill which was signed by President Trump this week.
Mental health advocates say having a simple three-digit number will be a step forward for Americans in need to crisis care.
“The implementation of 988 is going to be an enormous boost to those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideations and finding help,” said Tony Coder, executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, which is part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio. “According to some reports that I have seen, national experts predict that there could be a 25 percent increase in calls to the National Lifeline once it is implemented, so there is a lot of work to do to make sure that Ohio is ready when this launces in 2022.”
The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 10-digit number — 1-800-273-TALK. However, advocates say the full number isn’t easy to remember in a time of crisis.
The new law not only establishes the new number, but includes funding and resources to help local crisis centers to handle emergency mental health emergency calls.
Officials said calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifetime have increased as much as 6 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation can be reached at 614 429-1528.
NAMI Ohio will match any donation dollar-for-dollar up to $5,000. Mental Health disparities disproportionately affect the African American community. With stigma and suicide rates on the rise, Central State University (CSU), a historically black college in southern Ohio, commits itself to reducing barriers to mental health care for its students. NAMI on Campus, a student led mental health program, is one major way CSU engages students, faculty, and staff in their commitment to reducing barriers, increasing access, and raising awareness of the need for mental health care for all.
CSU NAMI on Campus Virtual Walk Flyer
As a child, Hope Haney loved watching The Lone Ranger show on television. Later, she became a fan of the Green Hornet and Batman. Haney eventually realized her TV heroes had one thing in common: they all fought for justice.
Haney’s three-decades of being a champion for justice of people with severe mental illness will be recognized Sept. 25 when she receives the Eagle Award from the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board. The award goes to someone who has “soared above” the average in giving a voice to the voiceless in the community, according to Duane Piccirilli, director of the agency. The virtual award ceremony will be streamed on Facebook Live. (https://www.facebook.com/Mahoning-County-Mental-Health-Recovery-Board-479156725598298/)
Haney, 61, has been executive director of the NAMI Mahoning Valley since 2015, but she has been an advocate for people with severe and persistent mental illness for 33 years. She earned a master’s degree in community counseling in 1987.
This has been a particularly difficult year for Haney since she lost her significant other to COVID-19 on March 25. She worked out her grief by helping deliver food, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to Mahoning Valley adult care residential housing facilities for people with mental illness.
Haney has always been a champion for people with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Part of her focus came from the 1995 closing of the Woodside Receiving Hospital, an 800-bed state psychiatric hospital in Youngstown. The closing, part of a national deinstitutionalization movement, resulted in many former hospital patients moving to group homes in the area. Some never found places to live and became homeless.
“A lot of people purchased large old mansions and started group homes,” Haney said. “Every NAMI affiliate takes on the personality of its community. This is ours. We speak for the people who have no voice.”
It’s been many years since the days when Haney watched The Lone Ranger, the western drama on TV from 1949 to 1957. But she hasn’t forgotten him or his fight for justice. In her kitchen, Haney has an old tin sign that once advertised bread. The hero on the sign is the Lone Ranger.