I-Team: Lack of public mental health treatment options increasing jail populations

News Center 7's I-Team found hardly any public treatment options for people with a mental illness is leading to crisis-level numbers in the Montgomery County Jail. A problem that can sometimes start with violence on public streets and compounded by some of our neighbors with a mental illness ending ...

With limited public treatment options for those living with a mental illness, some people are attempting to self-medicate, which can lead to criminal charges.

News Center 7’s I-Team found hardly any public treatment options available, leading to crisis-level numbers in the Montgomery County Jail.

Mental health challenges started gripping Camela Staten’s son Christgene shortly after he graduated from Dunbar High School.

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Two years later, a trail of mug shots show the impact that progressing mental illness has had on his life.

“It was just one thing led to another,” said Camela. “To where he couldn’t get a job. He was arguing with family members. He wasn’t listening. He was misbehaving.”

His battle with mental illness became public when police said Christgene tried to rob a neighbor and broke a flower pot over his head.

The neighbor shot Christgene as he ran away.

He survived, but after two days in the hospital he was off to jail and then in a courtroom a day later.

While in court, Christgene seemed confused about why he was even in jail and court.

As his criminal history shows, that was only the most recent incident.

Dayton Municipal Court Judge Christopher Roberts told News Center 7 that he’s seen an explosion of people showing signs of mental illness who are also accused of crimes.

“We have a lot of people in jail that don’t need to be there,” said Judge Roberts. “It’s mental health, drug abuse and crime. That dual diagnosis just exacerbates the problem.”

The Miami Valley has a facility off Wayne Avenue that once was a state mental health hospital.

But it closed years ago because of budget concerns, among other reasons.

That left the state with only 1,100 beds publicly available for mental health treatment.

Some of those beds are in Cincinnati’s Summit Behavioral Health Center.

It’s one of only six facilities still open across the state.

All of Southwest Ohio is assigned to the facility.

“Summit Hospital may not have a bed available for two to three to four weeks,” said Roberts.

That means people like this woman, Kallen Wood, simply went back to jail.

Wood is accused of attacking her public defense lawyer after she fired them moments earlier.

She is facing new assault charges, but never went to in-patient mental health treatment.

Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said he believes the community is facing a mental health crisis, one he thinks could leave the public at risk.

“We can tell you that a jail environment is not the place for someone suffering from this illness,” he said. “I know people are going to be like, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ But what they have to realize, we had the opiate crisis. But we kind of put the cart before the horse there.”

Sheriff Streck said he frequently hears from Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board members who treat people with addiction.

Their stories include patients taking opioids to self-medicate mental illness symptoms.

September numbers, the I-Team reviewed, show the Montgomery County Jail’s population surging from just two years ago.

With an average of 750 to 900 inmates every, about one third are receiving tax-payer funded mental health treatment, including $99,000 tax dollars spent during the last six months on psychotropic drugs.

“There’s a lot of sheriffs like me that are looking at redesigning jails to help with some of this,” Streck said.

He now puts his mental health patients with the most needs in first-floor holding cells.

They have a lot of glass, which is supposed to allow corrections officers to always be able to watch out for them.

But it’s not a solution.

“Now we’re trying to figure out how we can take people to a mental health treatment facility instead of the jail,” Streck said.

It’s a situation Camela has found herself in.

Getting private mental health care for her son proved to be difficult and expensive.

And she feels that trying to get public help can be awkward.

“You have to do step after step in order for him to even get any help,” she said. “And the first step is to call police.”

Police stepping in can lead to a 72-hour psychiatric hospital evaluation, but that does not necessarily lead to in-patient, comprehensive mental health treatment.

Today, Camela feels fortunate.

“He’s in a good location to where there’s doctors,” she said. “They’re helping him with housing.”

Her son in finally in a mental health treatment program, living on his own and staying away from legal trouble.

All she says she can do now is hope.

“I pray to god,” Camela said.