GALLIPOLIS — Retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton was in Gallipolis on Monday to discuss a national initiative geared toward diverting people with mental illness and addictions from jails and getting them into treatment.
Stratton met with behavioral healthcare providers, committee members and criminal justice agencies from Gallia, Meigs and Jackson counties at the Quality Inn on State Route 7 in Gallipolis.
“Stepping Up” is a project being adopted by states across the country that aims to bring a coalition of organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychiatric Foundation as well as dozens of law enforcement associations, substance abuse and mental health organizations. Both Gallia and Meigs county commissioners signed a call to action to develop a comprehensive implementation plan to join collaborations and address the needs of “incarcerated individuals in our county jails” on Aug. 27, 2015. Jackson County Commissioners signed a similar proclamation Sept. 1, 2015.
Currently, Stratton serves as co-chair of the Ohio Attorney General’s Task Force on Criminal Justice and Mental Illness.
Ron Adkins, executive director of the Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health, addressed meeting comers with updates as to how much progress had been made with the initiative so far.
“In the fall of 2014, Jane Krason, of Appalachian Behavioral Health, approached us and asked us if we would be interested in participating in a pilot project funded by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for jail transfer clients that were being placed in the state hospital,” Adkins said. “They recognized that the Gallia and Meigs were two of the counties that have the highest census in that population. We spent several months engaging Woodland Centers. We brought in Joe and Keith (Gallia and Meigs County sheriffs Joe Browning and Keith Wood, respectively). We brought in the Middleport Jail and Middleport police.”
Adkins told the room that the group had approached efforts from the mental health perspective because of funding criteria. Allies developed a proposal and were funded $125,000 for the 2016 fiscal year. They brought in assessments and medications for inmates as well as therapy time. First, the Gallia and Meigs jails, as well as the Middleport jail, were served through the grant. Shortly after, $150,000 was acquired for the Jackson County criminal justice system to provide similar services. Beds had also been funded for a crisis stabilization unit.
While also concentrating on providing recovery bed facilities to the regions, a pair of $200,000 addiction treatment programs through grant funding are expected to be implemented for the coming years.
Stratton emphasized out-of-the-box thinking when addressing the assembled. While talking about the lateral communication of the assembled organizations, she also emphasized that she and her colleagues could take county and local government concerns up to the state level and higher when necessary. Meetings, such as the one in question, would be vital to further lowering the crowding of jails and providing services to individuals with mental health or addiction issues. She also emphasized that local agency leaders and judges should sit on committees to encourage communication and networking to make use of already present resources that organizations possessed.
Both the Meigs and Gallia county sheriffs shared that due to aged facilities, it was often hard to address mental health needs. Funding and resources were always an issue among others. Stratton said she would look into what could be done about their concerns. She commended area agencies for their “progressive” efforts in tackling addiction and behavioral health issues in southeast Ohio.
Local law enforcement agencies were lauded for their crisis intervention team training efforts.
Jackson County Judge of Common Pleas Court Chris Regan said he was not aware of some of the resources his court could use in assessing an inmate’s mental health needs until he had spoken with and encountered correspondence with Stepping Up initiative collaborators and that he felt this would be beneficial to his court and colleagues.
Stratton told the assembled that law enforcement agencies should ask inmates and those being processed if they had served in the military as there were a variety of resources that could be used if an individual entering the criminal justice system had once served in the armed forces.
“Already in this meeting, we saw connections being made,” Stratton said to the Tribune. “Making connections starts the process. I’m not going to be here. The people already here are the ones that have to make (the initiative) happen, and you can see it’s already happening here in this room. It really takes people pushing a project.”
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.