Sarah O’Brien said Oakland County Prisoners treating mental illness have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to prolonged isolation, but continued treatment and other resources have had an impact. positive in their well-being, both within the cell and once released.
O’Brien talks daily with these inmates, all of whom are referred by medical professionals for having mental health issues. She provides and connects them with mental health services and resources in her capacity as the criminal justice resources coordinator for the Oakland Community Health Network.
For years, the Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN) has partnered with community corrections in Oakland County, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Oakland Center for Health and Behavioral Justice. Wayne State to offer various programs, services and resources to people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system. More than 40% of Oakland County Prison inmates take psychotropic medications.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Brien said he has seen the severity of mental illness increase in the inmates he works with, which is about 15-20 a week.
“I think adjusting to life in prison is a big challenge for a lot of people, especially for people who haven’t been to prison before,” he said. “Many have experienced an increase in anxiety, depression and sleep problems. These are pretty much the main things.”
A list of current criminal justice system programs in the Oakland Community Health Network
O’Brien said most of the inmates he meets are encouraged by the mental health services they provide. He added that most inmates are sensitive and committed when talking to them about their mental health difficulties.
“It’s important to have a person there able to listen and understand their perspective without judgment,” he said. “We look at the individual and what their situation is as it presents itself to us. We are seeing results (with these prison diversion and criminal justice programs).”
At this time, she said the main goal is to make sure that all inmates referred to her and other resource coordinators for mental health services gather at the prison entrance. The sooner these individuals are found, the more positive the outcome will be, according to O’Brien.
“We want to improve our processes to make sure we’re capturing everyone and that no one falls through the cracks,” he said. “We want to meet with them to create a solid plan before they get out of prison. That’s our goal right now. I think we’ve done a lot of fantastic things with Telehealth and improving the results. That way, we’ve been able to to maintain some connections with external providers in the community. “
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Dana Lasenby, CEO of OCHN, said the network’s fun and entertainment programs and network outreach efforts have affected the lives of thousands of Oakland County residents over the years, including those who they were already imprisoned and transported to Common Ground by police to avoid possible prison stays.
“It is also important to recognize that at any time our partnerships with Oakland County law enforcement agencies and Oakland County Jail result in the connection of individuals with mental health or mental health services. substance use, recovery and life changes are possible, ”he said.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health services continued in the Oakland County jail, but moved to a virtual platform.
O’Brien said the first priority is to prevent people from going to jail to begin with.
In 2017, OCHN prison diversion programs were initially funded with a $ 200,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
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The grant allowed OCHN to improve its fun and criminal justice programs by providing more training and support to OCHN and its staff, expanding the training of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) for police officers. across the county, creating the rapid housing-supported transition program. which provides transitional support for mentally ill inmates suffering from homelessness and creates a youth justice fun coordinator position to identify and divert young people with mental health needs from the criminal justice system.
“The main goal for us is to reconnect a person to mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment they had before prison,” O’Brien said. “We perform care coordination with your community medical provider, whether your case worker, therapist, or psychiatrist. We do not replicate services, but we make sure we keep your case worker involved in the process, including dates. scheduled release of the courts, the scheduled release dates and post-release dates “.
Since the CIT was launched four years ago, prison deviations have averaged approximately 600 per year, with 742 deviations in fiscal year 2020 and 445 so far in fiscal year 2021. To date, a total of 216 agents Oakland County Police have completed CIT training and more than 240 first aid courses have conducted first aid courses in mental health.
According to the Wayne State University Center for Behavioral Health and Justice, county police officers used Common Ground, the county’s largest provider of mental health crisis services, 38 times more often after receiving CIT training. This increase was maintained 18 months later.
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In 2020, OCHN continued to fund and provide the psychiatric and clinical mental health needs of Oakland County Prison inmates through a contract with Easterseals of Michigan. In fiscal year 2020, a psychiatrist and / or clinician cared for a total of 1,306 inmates in Easterseals, Michigan. In fiscal year 2021, a total of 781 inmates have been cared for to date.
“While it is not a mandate for OCHN to fund these services at Oakland County Jail, having direct oversight of these services results in better care coordination and service delivery,” Lasenby said. “Prison services are provided to anyone who needs psychiatric support, whether or not they meet public mental health criteria.”
In 2018, the county’s prison diversion pilot program was recognized by the Michigan Health Diversion Council to show signs of progress and success. The board’s report, prepared in collaboration with Michigan State University’s data and evaluation team, outlined data and recommendations for the eight pilot programs across the state.
The goal of the pilot programs was to gather data in an attempt to replicate preferred diversion practices across the state of Michigan.
The county board of commissioners recently introduced a bipartisan resolution pledging to join the 2021 Stepping Up Initiative, a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in prisons and is the result of a collaboration between the National County Association, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
To help Michigan counties achieve the Stepping Up goals, MDHHS will provide the services and experience of the Wayne State University Center for Behavioral Health and Justice to provide technical assistance to counties that have approved the Stepping Up initiative.