Mentally Ill and in Jail: What's being done to keep people out of jail and in treatment

What's being done to keep people out of jail and in treatment

LUCAS COUNTY (WTOL) - Just eight percent of the population accounts for nearly half of the people incarcerated in Lucas County. And many of them ended up there because of struggles with mental illness.

WTOL 11's Sarah Oehler took a look at what's being done to keep them out of jail and in treatment.

Judge Gene Zmuda doesn't like to see these cases in his courtroom: A woman jailed, a police officer hurt, because her mental illness caused her to lose control.

"And all she was trying to do was to get the medicine she needed," said Judge Zmuda.

He says a mix-up at a local pharmacy kept her from getting the medicine she needed to treat her illness. When confronted by a police officer, she lost control and assaulted him.

Deemed incompetent to stand trail for her felony charges, Judge Zmuda referred her to the state mental hospital for treatment. Weeks later, she appeared back in court.

"And she was so different, because I remember the first time I saw her, and those type of defendants, when they have competency issues and have that mental health driving erratic, irrational behavior, you can tell," said Judge Zmuda.

Seeing these types of cases, the same people coming through his courtroom is what drives him to try to improve the system.

"The first step is a recognition from the mental health system that those patients, still are patients, even if they are housed in the Lucas County Jail," said Judge Zmuda.

Usually, the first people to come into contact with them are the police.

"It's really about de-escalating situations," said Judge Zmuda.

That's why Toledo police started the Crisis Intervention Team 10 years ago, training officers on their force to recognize the difference between bizarre or criminal behavior, and a person who is suffering from mentally illness.

Lieutenant Joe Heffernan is one of the CIT officers. He says people in our community recognize the pin, and they are getting to know these people to develop trust.

"We'll go to their homes, and sit down and talk with them, have a cup of coffee with them, and they'll explain to the officers what it's like for them when they start going into a crisis situation," said Lt. Heffernan.

That is key to keeping more people out of jail and in treatment.

Scott Sylak, the executive director for the Lucas County Board of Mental Health, says they are tackling the issue from inside the jails, funding treatment centers like Harbor, Unison and the Zeph Center, to assist in treatment before they go back through the revolving door of treatment, arrest, and jail again.

"So, they can go into the hospitals and into the jails and engage people that may be in need of mental services who are currently, but have had some setbacks in their recovery plans," said Sylak.

And that is part of the steps needed, says Judge Zmuda, to keep those who need treatment at home, and out of our jails.

"Really, what you're trying to do is you're trying to create linkages and resolutions so that they don't come back into the system," said Judge Zmuda.

A new class of Crisis Intervention Team officers just completed training last week. Toledo police say there are enough of them now to have one available to respond to a mental health crisis on any shift.

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