Rick Armon
and Stephanie Warsmith

Summit County officials are planning a pilot program aimed at keeping people with developmental disabilities out of the county jail.

The program, thought to be the first of its kind in Ohio, is a collaboration of several local agencies.

The Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board plans to sign an agreement with Oriana House to keep at its facility at 885 E. Buchtel Ave. up to eight men who otherwise would be sent to the jail. The individuals would be nonviolent, convicted of misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

“The DD board doesn’t really want their consumers in jail,” said Randy Briggs, legal counsel for the sheriff’s office and a DD board member. “That’s not where they need to be. The jail doesn’t want them in there because we’re not trained to handle them.”

Briggs said the sheriff’s office and DD are excited about the program “because we don’t believe anything like this is being done in the state right now.”

Earlier this year, Sheriff Drew Alexander instituted a policy refusing to accept violent mentally ill people at the jail until they are treated. He has long complained that the jail has become a dumping ground for the mentally ill.

That new policy has ramped up discussion about how the community deals with violent mentally ill people.

Akron City Council approved legislation last week permitting Oriana House to house people with developmental disabilities at its?Buchtel Avenue facility. Oriana previously used the facility for people charged with drunken driving.

Akron Councilman Garry Moneypenny, a former chief deputy for Alexander, said he was excited about the idea for the program until he found out it was in his ward. He said he got a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude, but changed his mind after touring the Oriana facility and finding out more about the plans. He met with neighborhood block watch groups and residents, who also were OK with the plans.

Moneypenny put some restrictions in the legislation, specifying that people convicted of serious crimes, like first- and second-degree felonies, can’t be housed at the facility and that Oriana must maintain a ratio of one staff member for every four clients and provide 24-hour security and supervision for the premises.

“The community felt comfortable,” he said.

Moneypenny commended the Developmental Disabilities Board for stepping forward to provide this alternative placement for their clients.

“I would challenge other entities to help get their populations out of the jail,” he said.

Jim Lawrence, who heads Oriana House, said Oriana plans to move its 32-bed DUI program to the Glenwood Jail and will have only the DD clients and its administrative offices at the Buchtel Avenue facility.

The one-year contract between Oriana and the DD board, which could begin in September, would be worth up to $258,000. DD would train the Oriana House staff on how to deal with developmentally disabled people.

The board and Oriana House also would work with the court system so judges know the program is available.

DD Superintendent Thomas Armstrong said he views the effort as a pilot that could be expanded.

“We’re excited about the potential with this,” he said. “We think that this is going to be a really good opportunity for us to develop one more option and we’re pleased to be partnering with Oriana House.”

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com.