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New Program Aims To Help Hamilton County Inmates With Mental Health Issues

Ann Thompson
The aim of Stepping Up is to keep criminals with mental health issues out of jail and get them into treatment.

In Ohio and across the country, jails are becoming defacto hospitals with more than 30 percent of inmates suffering from mental illness. The national program Stepping Up will now include Hamilton County after county commissioners voted to enhance existing efforts late last year.

The Stepping Up initiative aims to reduce the number of mental health patients in prisons.

"It's not appropriate to put someone in jail who simply suffers from mental illness and has a criminal history as a result of that illness," Commission President Denise Driehaus said during an interview with WVXU Cincinnati Edition host Michael Monks.

Driehaus was part of a roundtable Monday with former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton, who has become an advocate and helped establish mental health courts. She says Hamilton County is well on its way to help keep the mentally ill out of jails.

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"So not only are we going to bring some of the statewide resources and the lessons learned in other counties, we want to beg, borrow and steal with what you've done and share it with other counties as well," she says.

According to Gary Yuratovac, JD, Central Clinic Behavioral Health, mental health issues are one reason low-level criminals keep ending up in jail.

"They may get lost in the system," he said. "They are not seen by a psychiatrist in the jail as soon as they need to be. They may be going back and forth from the state hospital and the jail and they are kind of lost between the services they need in the community."