Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Cuyahoga Mental Health Program Provides Recidivism Reducing Treatment

A MetroHealth initiative that supports people who have serious mental health diagnoses and criminal convictions has been making strides to help people get their lives back and stay out of prison. The Wellness Reentry Assistance Program (WRAP), which began in 2013, identifies Cuyahoga County jail inmates exhibiting serious mental health conditions and provides them health care and support. It also provides addiction care for the 30-50 percent of inmates who are struggling with substance abuse. 

The free program is instrumental in ensuring inmates continue to receive the help they need through re-entry. Program members learn to fill out food stamp applications and social security paperwork, receive job training, and learn how to find housing. They also are informed on how to schedule and arrange transportation to a doctor’s appointment and have their prescriptions filled. Rashell Tallen, a WRAP nurse care coordinator, explains how devastating and confusing the world can be for someone who has just been released from jail. “I see it time and time again, it’s very overwhelming for these folks. They don’t know where to start. You walk out of jail and you might have lost your apartment and all your clothes and everything. You’re just standing there on the sidewalk. Our patients know that they can come here, that we have a plan.”

This program not only helps those who are currently incarcerated, but also those who have a criminal history. The program has improved the lives of nearly 900 people since 2013. The people participating in the program are usually low-level and nonviolent offenders. Between 2015 and 2018, 214 people participating in the program were arrested and jailed half as often as before they were in the program. 

WRAP costs between $200,000 and $300,000 annually, and has garnered support from the Woodruff Foundation, the U.S Department of Justice, and the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County. The program’s founder, Ewald Horwath, has had success with the program because they do not stigmatize their program members. “We don’t view our patients primarily as offenders, even though they are in jail. We’re approaching it from the standpoint of these are people who need treatment.” And their treatment is working.

One 38-year-old mother from Parma, Shannon Kuhn, attributes her regaining control of her life and getting sober to WRAP. She was approached about the program during a 2-month period at Cuyahoga County jail over a year ago – her first time being incarcerated. Since then, her charges have been dropped and she is awaiting expungement, all because of her participation in the program. She was homeless and staying with a friend, she had lost all hope. She had never received the kind of support that she got from the program before, and it overjoyed her. “They let me know that they were going to be there for me. They have been there for me for over a year now, every step of the way with anything I needed.” Thanks to this innovative program, she now has a home, a full time job, and a car. She can live her life with her daughter, sober and brimming with ambition.