Judges have new option with mentally ill suspects

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Ohio judges now have a new option when it comes to treatment for those with serious mental illness.

The law was first discussed in April and went into effect last week. It allows judges to order those with mental problems into outpatient treatment as an alternative to a hospital setting.

“We have to talk to our mental health board who is on the front line with all these patients and deal with how we are going to implement this program,” Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu said.  “There has to be sufficient evidence in that affidavit. We believe there is certain criteria that we can issue the person to be detained. When they are detained, they are taken down to the hospital and that is where they are going to be evaluated and then a hearing has to take place.”

So far, the new program has not been requested in a court within Mahoning County. Rusu and Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich both frequently hear cases involving those who have a mental illness.

As the option does come up, they said each decision will be on an individual basis.

“I think it will give some more flexibility to personalize the treatment because that way, you’ve got much more opportunity for success in your outcomes,” Milich said. “It’s a fine line. It’s a balance. Without restricting somebody’s rights, without due process. It involves a lot of issues to make sure a person’s rights are protected and not being transferred somewhere for the wrong reason.”

All mental health professionals in Ohio will undergo training, starting in October, for Ohio’s court-ordered outpatient treatment law.

“It’s really going to be important to know what this law and what it isn’t,” Compass Family and Community Services CEO Joe Caruso said.

The agency provides support for those with mental illness, and Caruso said they want what is best for each client.

“Working with counseling, it could be seeing a psychiatrist for your medication or a nurse with your medication, could be case management activities that would help somebody remain safely in the community,” Caruso said.

Mental health professionals said it is unclear what the cost of the new program may be, but the costs will be addressed as cases arise.

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