By LOU WILIN
A $140,000 state grant will afford mental health and addiction services to help Hancock County criminals avoid repeating their offenses.
Sixty-eight percent of jail inmates in the United States have a substance abuse disorder and 17 percent have a serious mental illness, the National Institute of Corrections reported. Seventy-two percent of inmates with mental illness also have a substance abuse disorder.
“In the absence of addressing these needs, the likelihood for successful re-entry in the community is greatly compromised,” said Precia Stuby, executive director of Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board.
The one-year grant to the Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board will take existing efforts to a new level. A therapist and case manager now are limited to crisis management and assisting other cases when they can, Stuby said. The grant will pay for an aftercare outreach person and a peer support person, boosting follow-up after people leave jail, she said. Expectations are that after the grant funds expire, most recipients will get coverage of the services through Medicaid.
To show what they plan to do more frequently through this initiative, officials had one of their success stories, Travis, speak briefly at the grant announcement.
“Travis … had made several attempts to restart his life, to no avail, based on the fact that he really had no support. His intentions were good, but when he would leave the jail and attempt to leap to society, based on his past, he was not given the opportunities that he so richly deserved,” said a Century Health social worker who works with inmates. “He has battled with mental health, substance abuse and a criminal background. We are happy to present him today with positive outcomes based on his linkage to the resources we currently do have in the jail.”
Travis today is helping raise his 6-year-old daughter, is working full time and saving money.
Helping Travis succeed and making a plan to help many others do likewise have been a challenge for two partners — the criminal justice system and social services — who sometimes conflict with each other.
“Criminal justice is very rule regulated, you follow the rules. Whereas in the world of treatment and social work, we have big hearts. We want people to change. ‘Oh, give them just another chance. They just failed this time,'” said Tina Pine, executive director of Century Health. “So I think it’s just blending those two cultures to best serve that client.”
The two cultures tend to have differing goals, Stuby said.
“When we get our law enforcement hat on and our criminal justice hat on, we’re very focused on safety and we’re very focused on criminogenic risk … when you come into our (treatment and social work) system, we’re really focused on, ‘Is there an illness present and something we need to do about the illness?'” she said. “So we would be saying, ‘We have to treat the illness.’ They would be saying, ‘We really need to deal with these criminogenic things like who they are hanging out with, what kind of behaviors they have that are antisocial’ and so on. It seemed at times that we were at odds.
“And so what we are trying to do is say that you are one person and that one person could be struggling with a lot of different things, and we need to find a way to pull all of that together so we are steering in the same direction … and trying to help people in all aspects of their life so they can be successful,” Stuby said. “One thing that we have all agreed upon is the need to reduce recidivism in our local jail. The proposed framework takes into a account the differing goals of the two systems and weaves them together.”
It is something that officials from both worlds have been working on for some time. Stuby recalled one of her first meetings with Sheriff Mike Heldman after she took the helm for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health board in 1997.
“We were talking about the jail and he said to me, ‘Most of them (inmates) are yours.’ I just kind of looked at him,” Stuby said, wrinkling her face in theatrical skepticism.
Shortly thereafter, a federal report underscored the sheriff’s point.
“The sheriff has been a partner with our system for anything that we want to try that we can show him that there is some evidence behind it, that we think it will make a positive change,” Stuby said. “He raises his hand and says, ‘I’m willing.'”
“He calls our office and he calls other offices on behalf of individuals that are in need,” Stuby said. “He is a true advocate for anyone involved in criminal justice, especially those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.”
Wilin: 419-427-8413 Send an E-mail to Lou Wilin
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