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Ohio suit demands postrelease care for mentally ill


FEBRUARY 11, 2010

Ohio suit demands postrelease care for mentally ill

The following appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer and on The Toledo Blade Web site. Read below, or view the contents on The Blade's Web site.  

   By DAN HORN
   CINCINNATI ENQUIRER

CINCINNATI - Mentally ill prisoners in Ohio are more likely to get into trouble and end up back in prison after they are released because state officials turn them loose without the follow-up care they need, a federal lawsuit claimed yesterday.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, asked a judge to order the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Department of Mental Health to provide the care necessary to help keep mentally ill offenders from returning to prison.

Advocates for prisoners and the mentally ill said they are suing to help not only the released prisoners, but also the taxpayers who must pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep them locked up when they commit new crimes and are sent back to prison.
 

FEBRUARY 11, 2010

Ohio suit demands postrelease care for mentally ill

The following appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer and on The Toledo Blade Web site. Read below, or view the contents on The Blade's Web site.  

   By DAN HORN
   CINCINNATI ENQUIRER

CINCINNATI - Mentally ill prisoners in Ohio are more likely to get into trouble and end up back in prison after they are released because state officials turn them loose without the follow-up care they need, a federal lawsuit claimed yesterday.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, asked a judge to order the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Department of Mental Health to provide the care necessary to help keep mentally ill offenders from returning to prison.

Advocates for prisoners and the mentally ill said they are suing to help not only the released prisoners, but also the taxpayers who must pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep them locked up when they commit new crimes and are sent back to prison.

They say the cost of providing treatment to a mentally ill person in the community is about $7,400 a year, compared to the $25,000 a year it costs to incarcerate them.

But instead of treatment, the lawsuit claims, convicts with mental problems get $65 to $75, a bus ticket, and two weeks of medication upon their release from prison. The suit said many of those former inmates soon move into homeless shelters or drug-infested neighborhoods, where their mental health quickly deteriorates.

"Dumping prisoners with mental illness at homeless shelters creates a revolving-door phenomenon," said Bess Okum, staff attorney with the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which filed the suit on behalf of nine current and former prisoners. "Many of these former prisoners commit new crimes because of their untreated mental illness."

"It makes fiscal sense to link prisoners with mental illness to services," said Aneel Chablani of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality 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 nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services.

State prison and mental health officials said yesterday they would not comment on pending litigation.

According to prison policies, mentally ill inmates are supposed to get a referral to a local mental health agency prior to their release, along with a 14-day supply of medications, a list of follow-up care services in the community, and, if they qualify, help in completing a Medicaid application.

A statement on the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Web site states that "it is the policy of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to ensure the prompt and continuous delivery of mental health care."