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Lucas County officials encourage treatment options instead of incarceration

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An inmate is finger printed at the Lucas County Jail.

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Standing before the jail they hope to replace, Lucas County officials on Wednesday announced new efforts to limit incarceration for those with mental illness.

Leaders from the board of commissioners, mental health services, and law enforcement advocated for wider diversion to treatment instead of incarceration. They spoke during a news conference that marked Mental Health Month and a nationwide day for the Stepping Up program.

Residents with mental and behavioral health issues or substance abuse need to be connected with local resources, Commissioner Carol Contrada said.

“Jail should not be the dumping ground for people with mental health issues,” Ms. Contrada said.

Studies show 57 percent of those released from the Lucas County jail have behavioral health needs. Of those still in custody, 335 inmates, or 67 percent, received mental health services at some point in their lives, and 239 people, or 48 percent, received services in the past five years.

WATCH: Leaders advocate for wider diversion to treatment instead of incarceration

One new program is the Opportunity Project, which since January has identified people who need treatment services hours before their initial appearance before a judge. The program involves a case manager working with defendants’ attorneys to encourage them to get treatment, said Sean McNulty, chief public defender.

The goal is a better case resolution for the person and services keeping him or her from the system, Mr. McNulty said.

“Those are the better outcomes for everyone, not just the individual, but the community as well,” Mr. McNulty said.

The county’s mental health and recovery services board will provide up to $173,260 through June and the same amount for the subsequent 12 months. It funds two case manager salaries and program costs.

A MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge grant provided $47,571 for attorneys paired with case managers through September. Opportunity Project so far has linked 179 people with a treatment provider.

In addition, officials developed a diversion program to start next month as an option for specific misdemeanors. It would give prosecutors and judges an additional tool, said Holly Matthews, executive director of the area Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Sheriff John Tharp said law enforcement officers are happy to try something different, especially in light of repeatedly arresting the same people with mental illnesses.

Commissioners have said a proposed jail and behavioral health solutions center would allow for greater criminal justice reform. The intended site is in the 5700 block of North Detroit Avenue in North Toledo.

Contact Ryan Dunn at: rdunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6095, or on Twitter @RDunnBlade.

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