Jails across Northeast Ohio say mentally ill inmates — people once sent to psychiatric institutions — are filling cells needed for more-traditional criminals, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Budgets are ballooning as the state and counties pay for more staff and more medication at a time when the region’s jail population is at an all-time high. As of October, Ohio was treating 8,371 mentally ill prisoners at a cost of about $67 million a year. The mentally ill represent 18 percent of all the people in state prisons. Those numbers do not include mentally ill prisoners held in county jails, for which figures are not available.
For many, jail is the only place to get treatment. “Their gateway to mental health care is through a jail,” said Capt. James Drozdowski, Lorain County Jail administrator. “A jail setting is no place for these people.” In 1976, Ohio’s psychiatric hospitals had about 15,000 beds. Today, that number stands at 1,200, but 700 are reserved for inmates who plead guilty to crimes by reason of insanity. Lorain County spends about 40 percent of its $1.2 million jail health-care budget on the mentally ill, who are housed in a 22-bed unit. “It’s very taxing on the budget,” Drozdowksi said. The largest expense is psychotropic drugs, which can average $1,500 to $2,000 per inmate each month. The drugs have a modifying effect on perception, emotion or behavior. Under state law, inmates are given a two-week supply of prescriptions upon release.