On October 26, The Center for Community Solutions hosted its annual Celebration of Human Services in Cleveland. The event highlighted the incredible service from individuals around the city as volunteers, providers and public officials gathered to pay homage to the human services work and workers in Cleveland.
Three breakout sessions at the Celebration focused on a few of Community Solutions’ policy priorities. These sessions each had policy experts as panel guests discussing: poverty, Medicaid and the connection between the criminal justice and behavioral health system.
People with mental health and addiction issues have a shorter lifespan and are often engaged in our criminal justice system
The criminal justice and behavioral health panel was made up of experts from around the state who focus on improving the criminal justice system and providing services to individuals who were once a part of that system. It is through this work, that individuals highlighted the overwhelming role of behavioral health conditions on individuals currently involved with the criminal justice system and those seeking true rehabilitation after incarceration. The panel was moderated by Judge Jennifer Brunner, Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals, who is also on the Community Solutions Board of Directors. Panelists included:
- Damareo Cooper, Executive Director, Ohio Organizing Collaborative
- Marcia Egbert, Senior Program Officer, The George Gund Foundation
- Melissa Knopp, Esq., Program Manager, Ohio Stepping Up
- Bishara Addison, Senior Manager, Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Towards Employment
The work experiences many of the panelists highlighted that people living with mental illness and addiction have some of the most immediate and severe needs in our community, especially when it comes to their involvement in the criminal justice system. People with mental health and addiction issues have a shorter lifespan and are often engaged in our criminal justice system, compounding the challenges of successful recovery. Throughout the United States two million people with a mental illness go to jail every year.
In particular, the criminalization of drug use raised concerns among panelists about racial inequities in incarceration. Focusing on the promise of a criminal justice system that highlights human dignity and restoring people, panelists further highlighted the disparities in the Ohio’s criminal justice system by pointing out that 12 percent of Ohio is black while 43-49 percent of the state’s prison inmates are black. In Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that African-Americans are 4.1 percent more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Disparities like these were highlighted in our recent By the Numbers report and are seen routinely in the ongoing work of many of the panelists.
Throughout the United States two million people with a mental illness go to jail every year.
Panelists identified promising approaches specific to children and young people where early investments in other states have shown that $10,000 investments in treating youth in the community have shown positive outcomes and saved taxpayers $200,000 a year that would typically be spent in incarcerating youth with fewer outcomes. Panelists identified that 50 percent of these youth have a behavioral health condition. The work being done around the state to further advance specialized dockets, crisis centers and medication has shown significant improvements in a short amount of time. Further investing and examining these types of approaches can assist with the 63 percent of individuals who are incarcerated in Ohio who have a mental health condition.
By looking at state efforts to redesign the system, advancing policies that protect lives and avoid overdoses, as well as generating content focused on system delivery improvements, we strive to enhance access and create the conditions for successful integration of the criminal justice and behavioral health systems.
Community Solutions focuses on developing answers to some of the most difficult policy issues facing the state, like the number of individuals incarcerated who have a behavioral health condition. By looking at state efforts to redesign the system, advancing policies that protect lives and avoid overdoses, as well as generating content focused on system delivery improvements, we strive to enhance access and create the conditions for successful integration of the criminal justice and behavioral health systems.
 The Center for Community Solutions, Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition. By the Numbers. May 2018. https://www.communitysolutions.com/resources/by-the-numbers/
 American Civil Liberties Union. The War on Marijuana in Black and White. 2013. Accessed March 2018. https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white.