Last year, Delaware County received a $420,285 federal grant to provide addiction recovery and mental health services to high-risk prisoners.

Last year, Delaware County received a $420,285 federal grant to provide addiction recovery and mental health services to high-risk prisoners.

On Monday, May 21, county commissioners voted unanimously on three memorandums of understanding among the Delaware County jail, the Central Ohio Mental Health Center and Maryhaven, a Columbus addiction-treatment facility, outlining how much of the grant will be spent.

"We will be working together on providing inmates with mental health (resources) and drug and alcohol rehabilitation," said Delaware County jail Director Joseph Lynch.

"We hope that once an inmate goes on a plan that, upon release, he picks up community services that are already there," he said. "Our goals are to reduce recidivism, make our facility safer and to provide wrap-around services that are available to prisoners upon release."

Delaware is the fastest-growing county in Ohio and has experienced two decades of steady increases in the jail population, as well as a surge in drug crimes and arrests, according to the commissioners' memorandums. The county jail has increased its capacity from 178 beds in 2010 to 286 beds in 2011, with many of the newly incarcerated either abusing alcohol or drugs or suffering from dual substance and mental disorders, commissioners said.

"I hate to call it a checkup, but I think it's important for there to be follow-up after the prisoners are released back into the community," said Commissioner Tommy Thompson.

Mark Travis, director of the Central Ohio Mental Health Center, told commissioners "it is absolutely our intent to keep hooked up with the prisoners after their release."

Travis added, "Delaware County over the past several years has done a good job trying to set up re-entry programs from prisons, and this finishes the spectrum of care."

He said such care would become ever more important, "given the (new) sentencing guidelines that have changed the number of people we're going to be keeping local. We'll keep the hook-up, hopefully keep recidivism going down even further."

Travis told ThisWeek that approaching prisoners before they are released has definite advantages.

"It's an interesting proposition to intercede while the clients are still in prison," he said. "They aren't going anywhere and they have a lot of time to think about the things we present to them."

The health center also will reach out to the families of prisoners in the hopes of creating a stable environment into which the prisoner may return.

Lynch said the plan is to address all an inmate's needs before he or she commits another crime and returns to prison.

"Mark Travis' group deals with mental health issues. Maryhaven's slant is drug and alcohol," Lynch said. "In a way, this is a grass-roots roots anti-crime initiative. We want to get these people while we have them incarcerated and get them on the right path, get them mental health assistance, substance abuse assistance, as well as job training and placement. We'd like to combat the things that got them into jail in the first place."

Thompson praised all three entities for their work on an important social issue.

"Sometimes it seems easier to say, 'Lock 'em up and forget about 'em,'" he said. "But I like the idea that you're working with other agencies trying to make every effort for these individuals to be successful when they are released from their incarceration.

"We appreciate that. The statistic used to be, seven of 10 would return (to prison), and anytime we can reduce that, we are doing well."