by Courtney Astolfi for

November 20, 2020

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish on Friday announced a proposed $9.2 million deal with the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board and Oriana House to operate a diversion center, where non-violent mentally ill or addicted crime suspects can be treated rather than jailed.

The two-year contract, to be introduced Tuesday to County Council, would be for a temporary diversion center while the search for a permanent center is underway. Funding for the center would come from opioid settlement funds, Budish said in a Friday interview with The Plain Dealer and

“Treatment for mental illness and addiction will be vastly improved, the jail population will be reduced and we’ll be enabling people to break free of the cycle of incarceration and to join the community as productive citizens,” Budish said.

The 50-bed diversion center, which Chief of Staff Bill Mason hopes to open in the first three months of 2021, is expected to annually divert 300 to 400 inmates from the county jail. The county has been trying to reform jail operations since a string of inmate deaths in 2018, and reduce the overall population, a large portion of which suffer from mental health or addiction issues.

Jailing mentally ill suspects is costly and inefficient, Budish said. Keeping 40 people out of the jail each day would equate to $1.8 million in savings annually on jail costs, according to county officials.

“It’s the first of its kind in Ohio… and this is a big deal for Cuyahoga County,” Budish said. “This is one of the biggest things we’ve done since I’ve been the executive, and certainly one of the most impactful.”

As proposed, Oriana House, a mental health and addiction treatment center, would run day-to-day operations at a largely-empty building it already owns at East 55th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, near its current headquarters. That includes staffing, counseling services, and nursing, among other responsibilities.

The ADAMHS Board would serve as project manager, and oversee Oriana House’s operations.

And Cleveland-based Frontline Services would staff a 24-hour hotline open to all police officers. Specially-trained hotline operators would help officers determine whether the diversion center is the right fit for a crime suspect. Operators would also be able to talk directly to the suspect to help make that determination, Mason said.

As planned, officers also would have real-time access to prosecutors, who would help decide whether to charge and jail the suspect, or take them to the diversion center instead, said, a former county prosecutor.

“If somebody’s committing a minor offense, [such as] disorderly conduct, there’s no place to take them other than jail,” Budish said. “So this gives them an opportunity to take them to a place where they can get treatment and care and stay out of the criminal justice system.”

The ADAMHS Board also would provide crisis-intervention training for law enforcement officers across the county, which is intended to teach them how to better interact with potential crime suspects experiencing a mental health crisis.

The goal is to provide crisis-intervention training to all of the county’s law enforcement officers within two years, Mason said.

Individuals taken to the diversion center would stay for up to nine days, Chief of Special Operations Brandy Carney said Friday, but follow-up treatment is also necessary. To that end, the county intends to seek proposals from agencies that could provide continuing care once the suspect is released from the diversion center, Carney said.

ADAMHS Board Director Scott Osiecki in a news release said his organization is excited to oversee the diversion center.

“Diversion to treatment from jail is an essential step in making sure that the residents of Cuyahoga County receive the care they need,” Osiecki said.

Greater Cleveland Congregations, a group of faith-based organizations in Greater Cleveland, has for years pushed county leaders to establish a diversion center.

In a Friday news release, the organization congratulated Budish and Oriana House for the plans.

“This announcement is a win for our community, one we have been working for for quite some time,” said Pastor Jawanza Colvin of Greater Cleveland Congregations in the release. “We know that diversion centers are critical to transforming criminal justice. By directing mentally ill and addicted individuals toward treatment first, we are one step closer to fixing a broken system.

Said Prosecutor Michael O’Malley in the release: “Without GCC’s leadership, Cuyahoga County would not be as close as it is to having an alternative solution to the incarceration of people with mental illness.”

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