The Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Oriana House have finalized an innovative agreement that will keep some nonviolent people with developmental disabilities out of the county jail.

Judges will be able to send individuals to an Oriana House facility instead of putting them in a jail cell while they await trial.

The pilot program is considered the first of its kind in Ohio. It will run for 16 months and is expected to begin by late October.

“We want a place where people can get the help that they need and not be amongst general population prisoners,” said Randy Briggs, president of the Summit DD board and legal counsel for the county sheriff. “Our consumers have different issues and difficulties that need to be dealt with.”

Oriana House, which offers alternative sentencing and treatment programs, will provide three beds for men at its Glenwood facility in Akron and one for a woman at its Power Street site in Akron.

The DD agency will pay up to $180 per bed per day, and the contract is worth a maximum of $344,000.

The original proposal, announced in July, called for eight beds for men and none for women. Then the agency realized it didn’t need that many beds and wanted at least one for women, Briggs said.

There are only a few people with developmental disabilities housed at the county jail each month, he said.

The individuals sent to Oriana House facilities would be nonviolent and charged with misdemeanors or low-level felonies. They also must be receiving DD services. Each case will be evaluated to see if the person qualifies, officials said.

When in the facility, individuals will receive 24-hour supervision. Summit Psychological Services also will provide help as needed.

Officials said the program can be expanded, and they hope the collaboration serves as a statewide model. The local DD agency and advocates said they are unaware of a similar pretrial program in the state.

“The Arc of Summit and Portage Counties applauds the efforts of Summit DD and Oriana House to work with people with developmental disabilities in providing an alternative environment to jail,” said Leeanne Saro, executive director of Arc, an advocacy agency and support group for people who have developmental disabilities.

“This innovative setting will allow individuals with developmental disabilities to be in an environment which is more suited to their specialized needs while navigating the pretrial system.”

The Ohio Association of County Boards Serving People with Developmental Disabilities, based in Worthington, expressed similar support.

“Our association supports all efforts to place offenders and accused offenders with special needs in environments that can provide adequate care,” spokesman Adam Herman said. “When people with special needs are put in jail without adequate supports, they are often at significant risk of harm, both physically and psychologically.”

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

Alexander has said his deputy jailers don’t have the training to deal with mental health issues, especially developmental disabilities.

Briggs noted that many people with developmental disabilities brought to the jail have been involved in incidents at group homes and that domestic violence laws require that an arrest be made.

“This has been a longtime concern, obviously of mine and the board in general, too,” he said. “There is really no place for our DD clients to be brought to that has the training and ability to deal with these people. We don’t really believe that the majority of our consumers belong in the Summit County Jail.”

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