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Orleans will step up efforts to treat mentally ill in jail

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 December 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Mark O’Brien (right), director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department, presents the Stepping Up Initiative to Orleans County legislators on Wednesday. O’Brien is joined by Scott Wilson (center), the jail superintendent, and Randy Bower, who takes over as sheriff on Jan. 1.

ALBION – About 80 percent of the inmates in the Orleans County Jail have mental health disorders, and half of the inmates have drug and alcohol addictions, the jail superintendent told Orleans County legislators on Wednesday.

About 30 inmates each month take medication, paid for by taxpayers, to help fight their addictions and mental health issues, said Scott Wilson, the jail superintendent.

Many of the inmates fighting addictions and mental health disorders have high rates of recidivism, returning to the jail, Wilson said.

He thinks there is a better way to help inmates with their addictions and disorders, and also to break the cycle of crime.

Wilson was joined by Sheriff-elect Randy Bower and Mark O’Brien, director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department, in presenting the Stepping Up Initiative (click here) to county legislators. Many counties across the country are working to provide more mental health and drug addiction services to inmates.

“We want to keep them out of our jails and break the cycle of addiction,” Wilson told legislators.

Bower in his campaign for sheriff made treatment for inmates battling addictions one of his top priorities. He already has made connections with other sheriffs running the Stepping Up Initiative. Bower said he would like to have the program in place in early 2016.

“Other counties have taken up this initiative and we’re going to piggyback on their successes,” said Legislature Chairman David Callard.

Mark O’Brien, director of the Mental Health Department in Orleans County, said it will be a community effort to assist those with mental health disorders. His department will coordinate with Probation, the Department of Social Services and other agencies to reach people before they are in jail.

He noted Mental Health has agreement with four of the five school districts to have mental health counselors in the schools to work with children.

The county already has a drug court. It could look at other jail diversion programs with Mental Health and perhaps Veterans courts, O’Brien said.

Wilson cited statistics from the Stepping Up Initiative that estimate 2 million people in the United States are admitted to jails annually. Those people tend to be incarcerated longer than other inmates, and require more attention from staff and taxpayer resources, Wilson said.

“I really applaud you for this effort,” Callard told the trio leading the initiative in Orleans County. “It’s long overdue and it’s certainly welcome.”

The Legislature presented Wilson with a proclamation for leading the effort.

“We want to put it in writing to show just how fully we support this initiative,” Callard said.