Ohio Jail Struggles To Handle Surge in Inmates Detoxing From Opiates

By McCarton Ackerman 10/05/16

Even at full capacity, the jail’s medical unit cannot accommodate all of the detoxing inmates.

Ohio Jail Struggles To Handle Surge in Inmates Detoxing From Opiates

A Northern Ohio sheriff is pleading for more space in the local jail after the ongoing opioid epidemic throughout the state has caused its booking and medical areas to reach full capacity.

Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn told the Toledo Blade last month that the Wood County Jail is experiencing a rise in inmates detoxing from opiates, as well as those suffering from mental health issues or being placed on suicide watch. Even at full capacity, the jail’s medical unit cannot accommodate all of these inmates.

Officials have been forced to improvise with what they have, five holding cells designed for detaining disruptive inmates, as a makeshift treatment facility.

“I have been talking about the medical and booking expansion for at least five years,” said Wasylyshyn. “We had a recession and I knew it wasn’t going to happen until the economy got better.”

But Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw indicated that an expansion won’t happen anytime soon. She confirmed that it “won’t be in the next year or so” and will be queued up alongside several other projects the county is considering over the next decade. Even if the expansion does happen, it will involve a reconfiguration of the jail rather than additional facilities being built.

Ohio has recognized that there is a crucial need for inmates struggling with addiction to receive treatment that goes beyond detoxing. As of last July, the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) stepped down from running addiction recovery services in state prisons, allowing the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS) department to take over so that more inmates can have access to treatment.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration also unveiled new plans to spend $61 million to help prisoners get clean. Tracy Plouck, the director of MHAS, said the initial focus will be on non-violent offenders who are serving sentences of 18 months or less. They also planned to provide additional resources that will help inmates land employment when their sentence ends.

“By reducing the state’s overall recidivism rate, we are actually reducing cost to the taxpayer in the long term,” Plouck explained at the time. “We are seeing fewer people who are incarcerated for crimes that could be avoided because the root cause…their addiction…why they might have committed the property crime or drug offense in the first place is no longer occurring.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.