County jails often are a revolving door for people with mental illnesses

By Gary Huffenberger - [email protected]

WILMINGTON — Clinton County officials lean toward joining “Stepping Up Ohio” which aims to reduce the number of persons with mental illnesses cycling in and out of county jails.

Already 50 of Ohio’s 88 counties have joined.

Stepping Up describes itself as a national effort to break the cycle of jail being “the de facto mental health hospital.” There are a lot of factors that play into this cycle, one being the long-ago closing of state-run institutions for people with severe mental illnesses, according to the Stepping Up website.

Clinton County Sheriff’s Office Colonel and Chief Deputy Brian L. Prickett said the Summit Behavioral Healthcare facility in Cincinnati is the only facility providing inpatient care for the mentally ill that will admit southwest Ohio people with criminal charges on them.

“But we’re competing with a lot of big counties — Butler, Hamilton, Warren, Brown. They’re very gracious trying to help out the small counties because they understand we don’t have the resources some of the other counties have, but we’re competing with those large counties,” said Prickett.

Its capacity is 291 people, and its website says it provides care for acutely mentally ill adults.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services operates six regional psychiatric hospitals including the Summit facility.

Deputies who do road patrol sometimes run across people who are suffering from a change in mental status on the road, but they do not have a criminal aspect, added Prickett.

“Part of the problem is connecting them to services at that very point in time when they’re having a moment. It’s not always easy to get them into a facility to help them,” the chief deputy said.

The after-care is a big challenge, he said.

“Once you connect them to the service, [then] it’s about keeping them connected,” said Prickett.

He elaborated. If they don’t have family support, these people need to have somebody ask them whether they’ve taken their meds, as well as “Are you eating? Are you doing all these things that come natural to all of us, but some of these folks need to be reminded to do some of these things.”

Prickett also said a lot of people with mental health challenges get to thinking they don’t need the meds, but in fact they do need them which becomes clear, at least to others, after they stop.

Commissioner Mike McCarty spoke up.

“And they’re not interacting with the right people,” said McCarty.

Prickett continued with the commissioner’s thought, “and that’s when they backslide.” That’s where somebody needs to advise them, ‘Hey, you’re headed down that path again,’ said Prickett.

Stepping Up Ohio indicates it offers a free readiness assessment with a team of experts, as well as free technical assistance, plus other services and opportunities.

It’s anticipated Clinton County will become a Stepping Up Ohio registered county by county commissioners passing a resolution in support of the initiative.

Among the funders of Stepping Up Ohio is Alkermes, which has a production facility for the manufacture of medicines in Wilmington. A global bio-pharmaceutical company, Alkermes is focused on developing innovative medicines that aim to address unmet needs of people living with serious mental illness, addiction and cancer, according to its website.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

By Gary Huffenberger

[email protected]