State grants to help mentally ill, drug-addicted Mahoning inmates

By Peter H. Milliken


Mahoning County has been awarded a $150,000-a-year, two-year state grant to help county jail inmates and Community Corrections Association halfway house clients with mental-illness and substance-abuse conditions re-enter the community.

Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, was in Youngstown on Thursday to announce the award of Criminal Justice-Behavioral Health Linkages grants to Mahoning and 37 other Ohio counties.

The grants total $3 million statewide.

Columbiana County is receiving $110,055 annually for two years. Trumbull County did not receive a grant in the allocations announced Thursday.

“Too many Ohioans with serious mental illness and substance-use disorders are lingering in our jails — not getting the help they need,” Plouck said.

“What we want to do is continue progress that we’ve made in the last two years by investing in partnerships between mental health and addiction- services boards locally and their partnering county jail and sheriff’s office,” Plouck told The Vindicator editorial board.

“We see this as a way to underscore partnerships that are occurring locally around the state,” she said.

The goal is to “bring more treatment into the jail and reduce recidivism (repeat offenses) because people are connected with treatment services,” Plouck said.

“We have counselors in the jail who provide services,” said Duane Piccirilli, Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board executive director, who appeared with Plouck.

Local mental-health levy dollars help pay for those services, Piccirilli said. “We’ve given the local jail money to purchase the newer medication,” for inmates with mental illness, he said. “That’s really helping with our clients not ending up back in jail,” he said.

The grant’s goal is to strengthen collaboration between the local criminal justice system and behavioral health care agencies.

The Mahoning County award follows enactment this fall by the Mahoning County commissioners of a resolution launching the county’s participation in the national Stepping Up initiative designed to reduce the number of mentally ill people in jails.

Stepping Up’s effort to plan post-release housing for jail inmates is designed to reduce homelessness, Piccirilli said.

The commissioners’ resolution says the rates of serious mental illness in jails are three to six times higher than in the general population, and nearly three- quarters of adult jail inmates with serious mental illness also have substance abuse disorders.

Maj. Alki Santamas, county jail administrator, said he hopes the program can facilitate a smooth post-release transition to community living and reduce the likelihood of people returning to jail after their release.

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