April 23, 2014

Mostly cloudy

Task force addresses recidivism of mentally ill

MEDINA — Judges, county officials and local agencies are working together to keep the door to jail from revolving for people with mental illness.

On Wednesday, members of the Mental Health Task Force met at the Medina County Jail to discuss programs that help prevent recidivism.

Sherriff Neil Hassinger explained individuals with mental illness across the country often end up in jail without being treated.

“The mental health issue is something we can’t just sweep under the table and hope it will go away,” he said.

County Commissioner Pat Geissman explained she started the task force in 2004 after attending a national commissioners’ conference and heard about a similar program in New Jersey.

“This program was just at the right time to help some of those people from going back into the jail through a revolving door,” Geissman said.

“There’s just been wonderful collaboration from many of the agencies here. Today we’re going to find out just how well we’re doing,” she said.

Hassinger said mental illness and recidivism is a problem everywhere.

“Every sheriff in Ohio will tell you the same thing — that the jails have become the dumping grounds for the mentally ill,” he said. It is thanks to many of the agencies in the Mental Health Task Force that some of the problems in Medina County have been addressed, he said.

“We’re fortunate with the caliber of the judges we have, the way they’re able to deal with what we send over to them,” he said.

Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler runs a mental health court that was established in 2005 and addresses some of the problems faced by defendants diagnosed with mental illness. He explained participants meet regularly with him, counselors and case managers. Kimbler said because they meet with him, they may be “more apt to follow the recommendations of their probation officer.”

The court received a grant in late 2009 to provide counseling to defendants in the common pleas courts. He said many of them have economic problems “that only exasperate underlying problems.” The grant provides them with counseling so they don’t have to worry about financial constraints, he said.

The county’s two municipal courts — Medina and Wadsworth — also have a program to address mental health issues. Marirose Power of Medina Municipal Court said the courts share a diversion program that does clinical case management.

“Some of these people didn’t even know they had a mental health problem until they committed a crime and met with a counselor,” she said.

“There is no delay of getting them into treatment, which is wonderful. And (the counseling) is consistent throughout the program,” Power said.

Alternative Paths helps develop and implement the programs outlined at Wednesday’s meeting. The Medina-based private nonprofit provides outpatient behavior health services.

The organization also provides Crisis Intervention Team training to law enforcement workers throughout the county.

Gale Carmon, CEO of Alternative Paths, said the program gives workers “training specific to how to work with clients who might be mentally ill.”

More than 200 local law enforcement professionals have received the training, making Medina the county in Ohio with the third most sworn officers trained, she said.

“All these things are contributors to the fact that we’re keeping tabs on people better and we’re not just throwing people in jail who have mental illness,” Geissman said.

Contact Maria Kacik at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.

  • shelby09

    Prosecutors also need to get involved in this. How is criminally charging a person with a crime directly related to a mental illness, going to make it easier for the person. Lets say a person has severe depression and attempts suicide. The person is charged with a crime related to the act, sent to jail, and now must have the stigma of a conviction to also deal with.
    The person does not get proper care while in jail, and when released, commits suicide anyway. What did that conviction accomplish, except perhaps give the person more reason to kill themself.