MIAMI COUNTY — In an effort to help people with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems into treatment and out of jail, Miami County will be participating in the Stepping Up initiative.
According to the initiative’s website (stepuptogether.org), approximately 2 million people who have serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the country. About three-quarters of those people also have substance abuse problems. Most of them tend to stay longer in jail, are released without services and have higher rates of recidivism, according to data collected by Stepping Up.
“We’re trying to lower the jail population,” Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said during a recent meeting with county commissioners, adding that much of the jail population has mental health or substance abuse problems.
Duchak described the program as a “toolbox,” offering resources to partnering counties. He said the county is already trying to do a lot of things recommended by the program, pointing to the partnership between the Sheriff’s Office, the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, and the Miami County Recovery Council.
“This kind of puts the county on the map. It does give us a little bit more access to potential funding and so forth,” he added. “There’s no cost to this. I think it’s a win-win.”
Lt. Nate Collett, a jail administrator, said the goals of the program are to get people with mental health and substance abuse problems out of jail and “in treatment, keep them on their medications, keep them in whatever program they might be doing.”
“It’s just another resource for the jail, but it’s also for the community,” he said. “Jail is not a good place for mental health.”
Kim McGuirk with the Tri-County board said that a partnership between law enforcement and mental health services organizations exists, but participation in the initiative offers the opportunity for more collaboration, including more training for officers and jail staff “on how to work with someone who’s having a mental health challenge.”
She added that every two weeks, a group of representatives from counseling agencies, the jail, crisis care and others meets to discuss cases where “folks in the jails need additional help.”
“Eventually, folks get out of jail. We need to be there when they are released to help them on their way and get them services,” she said.
Last week, the Miami County Commissioners approved the county’s participation in the initiative, joining neighboring Montgomery and Shelby counties. The resolution commits the county to examine its options for improvement, assess and better identify adults entering jail with behavioral health issues, track progress, and to identify programs available in the county.
“Unfortunately, it seems like our criminal justice system, i.e., the jails and prisons, seem to be the largest mental health institutions in the state. Anything we can do to help work with these people is certainly worth it to get them back out on the street and healthy,” Commissioner Jack Evans said.
Reach Cecilia Fox at email@example.com.