Leaders in Franklin County, Ohio are planning to overhaul the way the county responds to people with mental illnesses in the justice system. The Franklin County Criminal Justice Planning Board held its first quarterly meeting of the year in February 2014 to launch the County Justice and Behavioral Health Systems Improvement Project. The goal of the initiative was to improve public safety and public health outcomes for people with mental health and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system. The project aims to demonstrate how counties can use data to improve such outcomes, and is part of a national effort to use a research-based framework to promote public safety and recovery and prioritize scarce criminal justice and behavioral health resources.
Franklin County is one of three jurisdictions (Bexar County, Texas and Salt Lake County, Utah are the other two) selected as part of a larger national initiative promoting local systems planning that is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation. As part of the initiative, Franklin County receives intensive technical assistance from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization with experience working on initiatives like this at the state and local level. Members of Franklin County’s Criminal Justice Planning Board worked closely with the CSG Justice Center over the span of a year to identify data and priorities for analysis.
In May, the CSG Justice Center released a report highlighting major disparities in the length of time people with serious mental disorders stay in the Franklin County jail and the rate at which they’re rearrested following their release.
According to the report, an adult admitted to the Franklin County jail stays an average of 17 days; while those with a mental illness languish for nearly double that, 32 days. About 60 percent of adults with serious mental illnesses return to Franklin County Regional Jail within three years of their release, which is well above the 46 percent of all adults that return in the same time period.
The report also found that a large percentage of people with mental illnesses admitted to jail haven’t had contact with mental health services, both prior to incarceration or following their release. As many as 1,000 people with mental illnesses who are at medium or high risk of re-offense have no contact with community-based mental health services the year after their release.
The report offered Franklin County’s leadership a number of suggestions to address the issues they are facing, including:
Ensure that law enforcement’s response to people with mental illnesses promotes the safety of all involved and facilitates timely and efficient connection to community-based behavioral health care services
Use the results of behavioral health screenings and assessments to inform decisions about jail population management and the delivery of behavioral health care services
Connect people detained in jail who have behavioral health care needs to community-based behavioral health care services prior to their release
Increase the capacity of community-based behavioral health and housing services and prioritize people who are at higher risk of reoffending for such services
Shortly after the report release, Franklin County Commissioners passed a resolution to join Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails, committing the county to key actions, including the implementation of a plan that draws on the report’s recommendations and designing an approach to track progress going forward.
Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails, and the result of a partnership between NACo, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. For more information, visit www.stepuptogether.org.