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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
The National Alliance of Mental Illness Tri Cities in Washington is scheduled to host a discussion about their “Lourdes Prosecutorial Diversion” program. The program provides another option for law enforcement officers in dealing with low-level, non-violent offenders with symptoms of mental illness. It has been in effect for three years, and it identifies inmates with behavioral health conditions in Benton and Franklin County Jails, particularly where competence issues arise. The vast majority of those with mental health issues are less likely than anyone else to be violent, criminal, or dangerous. According to a study published by American Psychological Association of Crimes committed by those with a mental illness, only 7.5% were directly related to symptoms of a mental disorder. People with mental illnesses are not inherently prone to crime, but for those who have persistent illnesses that are chronic and have reoccurring flare ups that impact their judgement, they may do things they normally would not, such as shoplifting or trespassing.

Jail is not a place conducive to mental health treatment. The program is in effect to engage these patients with treatment so they can return to a functioning and coherent state. Upon completion of the program, which can span from six months to a year, the inmate’s charges will be dropped if they are low level crimes. The inmate will also receive resources such as housing and medical treatment.

A large majority of these inmates are charged for trespassing. Adriana Mercado, the Care Coordinator for the program, states that trespassing is very common because these individuals are symptomatic, or they haven’t been on the proper medications. “It’s really rewarding to get somebody into a home and see that change of behavior” as 50 inmates have successfully finished the program. According to Mercado, the recurrence rate has dropped substantially among these inmates.

The program collaborates with the crisis response and in-patient unit, Transitions, to determine the most suitable placement for each inmate so they can receive medication and work on becoming stable. The end goal of the program is to reduce recidivism for those who already face a very high chance of returning to prison once they are released.

Ken Hohenberg, the Police Chief of Kennewick, has stated that “from my perspective, this is not only going to be able to help keep people out of the criminal justice system that truly don’t belong there, but also provide some hope for their families and friends. We see this as the right thing to do.”
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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

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% 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.

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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Recidivism

Behavioral health professionals say it’s important to address mental health issues – even more so for an incarcerated individual. Corina Fisher, a Psychologist at L.E Phillips Libertas Treatment Center in Chippewa Falls, WI, states that we desperately need better services in jail. Recidivism will not be reduced, and criminal behavior will not be stopped by just locking up offenders with mental health issues. These individuals need to be rehabilitated so that when released, they can become productive citizens of society.

Governor Tony Evers of Chippewa County, WI has made a recent budget proposal to expand services to inmates with mental health needs. His new proposal would improve a statewide program called “Oars”, or Opening Avenues to Reentry Success, which is aimed at providing mental health resources to prisoners considered to be at a high risk of reoffending.

The Chippewa County Jail can accommodate up to 200 inmates, with a daily average of 130. In that daily average, Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk says that they deal with both female and male inmates with some type of mental illness. He says that it can be a serious challenge for law enforcement as their resources for handling this group is limited. Unfortunately, that lack of mental health resources often eventually leads these inmates right back behind bars. Kowalczyk said that today he is witnessing more and more issues of mental health than when he first became sheriff more than a decade ago.

Over 300 prisoners participated in the Oars mental health program last year. This new budget proposal includes funding for an additional 225 prisoners and could greatly improve the chances of those with mental illness to get a head start on improving their lives and overcoming recidivism.

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