Ohio DMH keeps a promise, funds mentally ill offender reentry programs

December 15, 2011
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The State of Ohio Department of Mental Health recently awarded $400,000 in “mini-grants” to 14 Ohio counties for re-entry support services aimed at individuals being released from state prisons who have been undergoing treatment during incarceration for mental illnesses. The state estimates that these funds will support local services for about 350 individuals.

The Department made a separate, $200,000 award to Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland. The funding was welcomed by Cuyahoga County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services CEO William Denihan because some 6,000 individuals return to the county from prison each year, primarily to a handful of wards on Cleveland’s east side.

Denihan estimated that Cuyahoga County’s share of the funds will be sufficient to offer reentry services and supports to about 60 returning inmates each year, which he estimates to be “about eight to 10 percent of the population of mentally ill offenders that return to the county each year.”

Nationwide, experts say that between 15 and 25 percent of incarcerated individuals have a serious mental illness. Re-entry programs and services for these individuals—available in the community for approximately $5,000 per person per year—offer significant value to states and communities because they can dramatically reduce criminal recidivism, sometimes to as low as 10 percent.

And, re-entry programs also save the thousands of dollars associated with each arrest, booking, and detention [approximately $2,000 in a large city] of a criminal suspect, as well as the $35,000 per year [in Ohio] cost of incarcerating one inmate. So, says Denihan, “We can treat seven or eight people locally, and help keep them out of trouble, for the same cost as a year of incarceration for a single inmate.” He ought to know—he served for years as Cleveland’s chief of police.

While $400,000 or $600,000 is not nearly enough money to support all re-entering Ohioans who have a mental illness, it is sure a step in the right direction. I’ll be watching to see if this 18-month grant program extends into anything more.
These re-entry funds fulfill a public promise made by Ohio DMH Director Tracy Plouck when she met with a group of Cuyahoga County advocates this summer, who asked for help in the wake of state budget cuts that sapped most of the state's share of community mental health support.

And, mental health advocates throughout the state are watching as the Ohio Department of Corrections weighs funding for jail diversion programs, which would offer counties the chance to identify, divert, and treat non-violent offenders (which include many individuals with mental illness or substance use problems) outside of jail or prison for lesser offenses. Any funding in this vital area is likely to be all too little in these tough economic times, but much welcomed as a promising start.

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Individuals who are incarcerated for AOD offenses sometimes have underlying mental health conditions and thus, might qualify for participation in this ODMH funded pilot if those conditions are diagnosed.

If the Corrections Department goes ahead with jail diversion funding, the cases affected by that program there would be non-violent offenders, including AOD offenders with lesser offenses.

Will any of these funds be available for AOD clients who have been incarcerated?