Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton is the project director for the Ohio Stepping Up initiative. Instead of addressing mental illness in jails on a county-by-county basis, Stratton said, Ohio is tackling the problem on a statewide basis. Including Champaign County, there are currently 45 counties in Ohio participating in the initiative.
From 2004 to 2014, the rate in Louisiana of people who returned to prison within three years of their release decreased by 12 percent, according to a national justice organization’s November report on prisoners affected by Second Chance Act programs. The report shows that almost 39 of every 100 such former inmates in Louisiana returned to prison within a three year window in 2004, but in 2014, 34 per 100 did.
Like law enforcement agencies everywhere, the St. Paul Police Department gets a lot of calls for mental health crises, which take a lot of officers’ time and cost a lot of money. So far this year, Ramsey County dispatchers have handled almost 6,000 calls involving mental health. That’s about 2 percent of incoming 911 calls.
Since joining Stepping Up, both Douglas and Champaign counties in Kansas have implemented mental health screenings in jail to get beyond guesswork and make more informed decisions about the strategies needed to have a measurable impact on the number of people with mental illnesses in their jails. Both counties were also named Stepping Up Innovator Counties for their recent efforts to accurately identify people with serious mental illnesses and collect related data.
State directors and staff in the fields of public safety, mental health, social services, and corrections are rolling out implementations of the state Justice Reinvestment Initiative. It aims to turn around Missouri’s rising incarceration rates by investing in treatment and other services rather than in prisons.
Throughout the country, in places as diverse as Tucson, Miami, and Milwaukee, people are finding ways to get those with diseases such as schizophrenia, PTSD, and bipolar disorder the help they need rather than locking them up. Common among all approaches is a willingness to address the problem across systems—from the courtroom to the jail to treatment and housing.
While governors set the tone and the general direction of a state’s destiny, it is the legislature they work with — independent and made of dozens of independent minds — that controls the flow of the conversation.
Sheriff Steve Tompkins recently told a roomful of public officials and inmates that the PEACE unit—an acronym for “Positive Energy Always Creates Elevation”—is part of an effort to reshape the way people are treated behind bars.
“People that are healthy are more likely to be able to find work,” said Tom Betti, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Medicaid. “In the long run that saves taxpayer dollars. They are healthier, employed and not reincarcerated.”
A new law meant to make it easier for Missouri crime victims to request financial aid to help pay for medical coverage, counseling and other expenses appears to be working, advocates say.