Franklin County Highlights Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with
Mental Illnesses in Jail with Stepping Up Day of Action
Mental Health Diversion Guide Breaks Down Possible Interventions
Across the Entire Justice Spectrum
In conjunction with May as Mental Health Month, Franklin County today celebrated the three-year anniversary of Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails with a Day of Action. Stepping Up has seen remarkable progress, with nearly 500 counties across the country joining the movement by passing resolutions or proclamations to make this issue a top priority. Franklin County was an inaugural signer of this national initiative.
Speakers from across the entire justice spectrum spoke at the unveiling of a Mental Health Diversion Guide, highlighting possible interventions and action steps to take on behalf of mentally-ill individuals at each step of the crisis and justice continuum. The Guide is available for download and residents are encouraged to share it widely across the community.
Denise Robinson, President and CEO of Alvis, spoke about early crisis intervention before police or emergency personnel involvement is even necessary. “We don’t want family and friends to wait until their loved one is in crisis to seek help,” said Robinson. “Central Ohio has a host of resources and supportive community partners in this effort. Our challenge is to educate people so they know how to connect with these resources earlier, at the point when someone is headed toward a mental health crisis.”
Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert, head of the patrol division of the Franklin County Sheriff’s office spoke next about what dispatchers and first responders need to know to best serve mentally-ill residents. “We need to know before we arrive if someone has a history of mental illness, if they’re on their medications, if they’re intoxicated, and how they view police and rescue workers,” Gilbert explained. “We have many tools in our belt, including sending specialized Crisis Intervention Team officers or deputies to the scene, and the more information we can get before arriving, the better we can de-escalate the situation and prevent having to make an arrest.”
Chief Deputies Penny Perry and Geoff Stobart, who head up corrections and programming for the Sheriff, continued the conversation. “If someone is supposed to be taking medication and has a valid prescription, we need to know that if they are taken to jail so we can continue their treatment uninterrupted,” Perry and Stobart emphasized. “Giving the arresting officer a valid prescription bottle is the best way for us to know and verify. Second best is calling our medical line and giving us the name of the person’s doctor and the pharmacy where he/she fills their prescriptions.”
Franklin County Municipal Court Judges Ted Barrows and Cindi Morehart, both of whom preside over specialized dockets and rotate through arraignment assignments, told event participants how the courts are taking mental health and addiction into account when working with defendants. “The more we know about the underlying cause of someone’s behavior, the better we can make decisions that will be fair to that person, connect them to the right corrective resources, and preserve public safety,” Barrows said. “Combining treatment with judicial supervision and a deeper understanding of underlying mental health and addiction issues, specialized dockets are very effective at helping defendants to get the help they need, not just spend time behind bars,” Morehart added.
“This is a real and pressing issue. Our loved ones require treatment and supports before, during, and after they experience a mental health crisis. This Mental Health Diversion Guide is a terrific resource, and yet we must do more,” Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown said. “Franklin County has developed a national reputation for our collaboration across the entire justice spectrum, including our recent designation as a Stepping Up Innovator County. We are all dedicated to creating people-centered, data-driven changes to better link those struggling with mental health to appropriate services. We must all share information on available resources and how to get help, so that everyone in our community can help keep our most vulnerable out of the justice system.”
For more information about any of the intervention steps above, contact the Franklin County Office of Justice Policy and Programs at 614.525.5577 or email Justice Policy Coordinator Michael Daniels on firstname.lastname@example.org.