Miami County is ‘Stepping Up’

MIAMI COUNTY — The Miami County Jail kicked off their involvement in the Stepping Up Initiative — a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails — on Wednesday, joining over 45 other Ohio counties.

Retired Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, serving at the project director for the Ohio efforts, explained to a group of Miami County officials, local law enforcement officials, judges, hospital officials, mental health professionals, and more on Wednesday that Stepping Up began when the National Sheriffs’ Association went to the National Association of Counties to advocate for more resources as jails have become “de facto hospitals for people with mental illness.” The initiative was launched in May 2015 by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the National Association of Counties, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, with support from the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, to help people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders safely stay out of jails and on a path to recovery.

According to the Stepping Up Initiative, an estimated two million people with serious mental illnesses are incarcerated in U.S. jails annually, with almost three-quarters having co-existing substance use disorders. As many as 30 percent or more of the inmates in Ohio’s jails have mental illnesses.

During the kick-off meeting with Miami County, Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak went over a variety of programs available to inmates at the Miami County Jail, including AA, NA, and Bible study meetings, as well as resume writing and life skills classes. The jail is also partnering with Upper Valley Career Center to provided skills training certifications for interested inmates to help them get hired at a second chance employer upon their release.

With those time commitments, deputies and corrections staff are feeling the strain of having so much inmate movement around the jail.

“There’s a lot going on on a daily basis,” Duchak said.

The jail is also a de facto detox center as Duchak said they constantly have people incarcerated who are detoxing off of drugs. He said that they recently had someone detoxing off of “wasping,” where the individual ingested wasp spray.

Jail administrators also present during the meeting noted that the jail programming, screening, and Crisis Inverventation Team (CIT) training has been helping them find people who have previously slipped through the cracks to get the help that they need.

According to the Stepping Up Initiative, CIT training “improves the likelihood of safety for officers and citizens” and “is effective at improving officer attitudes, skills, and level of preparedness in responding to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Stratton encouraged CIT training for not only with law enforcement agencies and mental health professionals, but also with officials in local parks departments, hospitals, and libraries as they may come into contact with people who are homeless and/or dealing with mental illness.

The Ohio effort is privately funded by Peg’s Foundation. To make this effort a success, Peg’s Foundation has retained Stratton to serve as project director and Melissa Knopp, Esq., to serve as project manager to lead the Ohio efforts.

Each year, Peg’s Foundation awards approximately $5 million in grants throughout northeast Ohio. Mental health organizations are allocated 80 percent of grant support, focusing primarily on chronic, severe, and episodic mental illness.

Thom Craig, the director of Mental Health Program for Peg’s Foundation, said that Peg’s Foundation can offer a variety of support to agencies involved in the Stepping Up Initiative, including technical assistance and grants.