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Lack of Release Plan for Prisoners with Mental Illness Endangers Communities


FEBRUARY 10, 2010

Lack of Release Plan for Prisoners with Mental Illness
Endangers Ohio Communities and Wastes Taxpayer Money, Lawsuit Says

Press release from Ohio Justice & Policy Center:

CINCINNATI – A class action lawsuit, Serenity L. v. ODRC, filed today in federal court faults the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Department of Mental Health for releasing prisoners with serious mental illness without links to necessary follow-up care.  The lawsuit claims that this inadequate release process violates the Americans with Disability Act, as well as state laws and the U.S. Constitution.

Prisoners with mental illness return to Ohio’s cities with just two weeks of essential medications, $65, and a bus ticket.  They often end up in homeless shelters or other unstable situations.
 

FEBRUARY 10, 2010

Lack of Release Plan for Prisoners with Mental Illness
Endangers Ohio Communities and Wastes Taxpayer Money, Lawsuit Says

Press release from Ohio Justice & Policy Center:

CINCINNATI – A class action lawsuit, Serenity L. v. ODRC, filed today in federal court faults the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Department of Mental Health for releasing prisoners with serious mental illness without links to necessary follow-up care.  The lawsuit claims that this inadequate release process violates the Americans with Disability Act, as well as state laws and the U.S. Constitution.

Prisoners with mental illness return to Ohio’s cities with just two weeks of essential medications, $65, and a bus ticket.  They often end up in homeless shelters or other unstable situations.

"Dumping prisoners with mental illness at homeless shelters creates a 'revolving door' phenomenon,”"said Bess Okum, Staff Attorney at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC), which brought this lawsuit on behalf of nine representative plaintiffs.  OJPC is a non-profit law office in Cincinnati that advocates for smart-on-crime criminal justice reform.  "Unsurprisingly, many of these former prisoners commit new crimes because of their untreated mental illness."

The lawsuit highlights the futility of releasing prisoners with mental illness without support.  One person named in the suit, Anthony G., was homeless and not medicated when, just three weeks after he left prison, he was rearrested for threatening people at a Cincinnati agency. The former prisoners named in the lawsuit suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.  None of them received effective assistance enrolling in services or preparing to reenter Ohio communities from prison.  All have lengthy criminal records.

"Treatment for people with serious mentally illness is more effective than incarceration in preventing future criminal behavior," said Janice Bogner of the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.  "With the right treatment, these individuals can lead productive lives."

"It makes fiscal sense to link prisoners with mental illness to services," said Aneel Chablani of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) in Toledo, which co-counsels the lawsuit.  "By spending little up-front, taxpayers can avoid the more expensive costs of jails, prisons, ER visits, and hospitalizations."  ABLE is a non-profit law firm that provides free legal services.

It costs $7,400 a year to treat an individual with a mental illness in the community, according to the Ohio Association of Behavioral Health Authorities.  It costs over $25,000 a year to send the same person back to prison.  Reforms sought in the lawsuit would link prisoners with serious mental illness to mental health treatment, housing, and other resources to keep this vulnerable group from returning to the criminal justice system.

Contact: Bess Messerman Okum, 513-421-1108 x16 or 513-582-1662 (cell)