SIDNEY — The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office will host a ceremonial groundbreaking for the STAR House (Sheriff’s Treatment and Recovery House) May 16 at 2 p.m. at 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney, adjacent to the Sheriff’s Office and Jail. The ceremony, open to the public, will also recognize local efforts in the National Stepping Up Initiative to help alleviate the number of persons in jail with severe mental illness.
STAR House has been developed as a collaboration of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Shelby County Commissioners and the Tri-County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services to assist persons released from jail as they become established in substance use treatment programs. The transitional treatment house will provide a sober living environment for up to 20 persons who have completed their incarceration and want to live in a safe environment while continuing to work on their recovery.
“What we know is that addicts who return to a substance abusing environment are much more likely to reoffend and return to the cycle of arrest, court and jail,” said Mark McDaniel, Executive Director of the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services. “The STAR House will give those individuals an alternative to that deadly cycle and help them build a life of stability, sobriety, community support and employment.”
STAR House will provide treatment, programming, mentoring and structure to people who are serious about working on their recovery and addiction. STAR House will also help assist clients with gaining employment, budgeting, maintaining healthy living, and developing life skills. The goal of STAR House is for individuals who have been released from incarceration and have committed themselves to working on living a drug-free productive life will make a long term lifestyle change and be productive members of the community.
“STAR House will assist the offender in learning new skills that will in turn enhance their employment opportunities, improve their social and economic conditions so the offender will be productive upon release into the community,” said Municipal Court Chief Probation Officer Melissa Harmon. “The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections has supplied the funding through the Justice Reinvestment and Incentive Grant obtained by Sidney Municipal Court to provide services to the offender through a Peer Support Specialist to prepare residents of the STAR House for re-entry.”
The Stepping Up Initiative was implemented in Shelby County in June 2015 in an effort to keep people with serious mental illness from being incarcerated and to connect them with services. Each year 2 million people with serious mental illness are admitted to jails across the nation. Approximately three-quarters of these adults also have alcohol and drug use problems. These co-occurring conditions can be difficult to treat and create obstacles for jails when incarcerated. When individuals become incarcerated the cost of treating them is two to three times greater than that of the typical inmate.
“Shelby County is pleased to be one of the first counties in the nation to sign on to the Stepping Up Initiative,” said Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann. “Since then our jail employees and other agencies have been collaborating to make the initiative a reality.”
Shelby County Jail and community partners try to prevent the incarceration of people with severe mental illness by working together as a team. When responding to a call, law enforcement officers more carefully evaluate the situation to determine whether a criminal charge is justified or whether an assessment for a possible mental health diagnosis is needed.
Before the implementation of the Stepping Up Initiative, law enforcement tended to incarcerate an individual with mental illness; since then law enforcement is more likely to look at the possibility that someone could be suffering from a mental health crisis and may need help. In those situations law enforcement takes the person in crisis to the hospital to get an evaluation by Tri-County Crisis to determine a plan of action.
Tri-County Crisis responded to Shelby County 138 times in 2016 and 194 times in 2017 to evaluate people in crisis. Sometimes an evaluation leads to hospitalization and other times the person is given a referral for further mental health counseling.
“Jails are not the appropriate place for the mentally ill and there needs to be more facilities available to help people that need services,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart. He said many jails across the country have become housing for the mentally ill because jail is deemed a “safe” place for individuals to be until appropriate hospitalization is found or a case plan is put in place.
The local court system plays a key role in assisting people with mental illness and drug abuse issues. Shelby County Common Pleas Court Chief Probation Officer Ruth Cooper said “mentally ill people often self-medicate by drinking or using street drugs; through the Stepping Up Initiative we are able to identify mentally ill people quicker and get them appropriate treatment. Probation Officers make home visits to ensure that this population is properly taking their medication which helps curb the cycle of these probationers from becoming incarcerated again.”
The Sheriff’s Office has put together a committee consisting of local law enforcement, court officials and community partners including Job and Family Services, Shelby County Counseling, Community Housing, and the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services that are assisting with the Stepping Up Initiative and the STAR House.
“With community partners working together and with financial assistance from the United Way, The Tri-County Board, State Legislatures and The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Recovery services we are able to provide the community with additional services to assist people with mental illness and give incarcerated people the opportunity to live in the STAR house,” said Lenhart. “When everyone pulls together to make projects work you see progression within the community.”