The High Need for Mental Health Services in Ohio’s Prisons and Jails

May 1, 2019 by DRO Director of Advocacy Kerstin Sjoberg / jails and prisons

Individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are disproportionately represented in Ohio’s prison and jail populations. For example, in 2015, more than 15,500 individuals with serious mental illness were in Ohio’s jails, an increase of 6% from the previous year, and one in five individuals in Ohio’s prisons have a mental illness.

This year DRO has increased our focus on mental health services for individuals in the criminal justice system. This includes individuals placed in state hospitals on “forensic” status, whether temporarily for competency restoration or for a longer-term commitment after a finding of NGRI (not guilty by reason of insanity). The need for advocacy and services for this population is high.

Currently Available Mental Health Services

Ohio’s state prisons house individuals convicted of a felony with longer sentences. The prisons have a cluster team structure, in which a multi-disciplinary team directs the provision of mental health care. The range of services includes assessments/evaluations, individual and group therapy, medication administration, case management and crisis intervention. The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) also works on re-entry planning, including a pre-release Medicaid enrollment program. Now under new leadership, DRC has asked for an increase in the state budget for funding to expand and improve the provision of mental health services in prisons.

County and regional jails house individuals who are being held for trial on both misdemeanors and felonies, and individuals who are serving time on misdemeanors, less than one year. It is harder to evaluate mental health service provision in jails because it varies greatly and there is a lack of consistent data. The data that is available suggests significant problems. Ohio’s standards for jails, enforced by the DRC, include requirements about mental health services. In 2016, 41% of jails were not complying with some physical or mental health jail standard. Specifically, there were 11 counts of non-compliance with mental health services, 13 counts for suicide prevention, and 16 for health appraisals.

Services Available through Local Initiatives

From a survey of ADAMH boards, 30 boards reported that they fund some behavioral health services in jails. The most commonly funded services included: assessment, case management, individual behavioral health counseling, and crisis intervention.
In addition, more than two-thirds of Ohio’s counties have applied for Criminal Justice Linkage Grants from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to encourage collaboration amongst behavioral health and criminal justice systems. The grants range from $83,333 to $150,000 and fund initiatives to increase access to services in jails and upon re-entry, often with the goal of preventing recidivism.

DRO’s Plans Going Forward

DRO will continue to work for improved mental health services for individuals in the criminal justice system. This includes advocating for individuals to get mental health treatment in jails and prisons, monitoring state hospitals that provide services to “forensic” patients, and investigating complaints about abuse, neglect and lack of mental health services.

Information for this blog was taken the By the Numbers series from the Center for Community Solutions and the Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition.

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