New Cuyahoga County Diversion Center To Offer Treatment In Place Of Jail

Cuyahoga County's new 50-bed diversion center will offer drug addiction and mental health treatment to people whom police might otherwise take to jail.
Cuyahoga County's new 50-bed diversion center will offer drug addiction and mental health treatment to people whom police might otherwise take to jail. [Cuyahoga County]

Cuyahoga County has opened a new diversion center to offer addiction and mental health treatment to people who otherwise might go to jail.

Numerous local officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on the long-discussed 50-bed facility on East 55th Street, south of Payne Avenue.

Initially, the center will offer services for people who encounter police on nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said.

“These are generally people that police just don’t know what they can do with, and generally they have just brought to jail because there’s no place else to put them,” he said. “And that’s not the answer, the answer is to get these people healthy.”

If police pick up someone with apparent mental illness or substance use disorder, officers can call a hotline run by the nonprofit Frontline Services to determine if the diversion center will take the person.

Last December, Cuyahoga County Council approved a $9.2 million, two-year contract with the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board to run the center. The county is funding the project with proceeds from opioid lawsuit settlements.

“This is a major culture change,” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said. “It’s changing the culture from a total incarceration to treating people.”

Budish is already talking about an expansion. He’d like to refurbish the old juvenile justice center at East 22nd Street and Central Avenue – a better location near the highway, he said, for law enforcement driving in from around the county. 

The city of Cleveland’s top prosecutor, Aqueelah Jordan, said the center will offer an alternative to families who felt they had no other way to help loved ones in crisis than to see them taken to jail.

“We are able to say to those community members, who we are meant to serve, ‘We have another way for you to help your family members,” she said.

Activists with Greater Cleveland Congregations, a faith-based community organizing group, pushed for neighborhood mental health centers during the 2017 fight over public financing for Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse renovations. A string of deaths at the county jail in the following years – and a scathing 2018 U.S. Marshals Service report – added pressure to reduce the jail population.

Numerous GCC members attended Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, including Donna Weinberger, the group’s criminal justice coordinator.

“We see this facility as only the beginning,” she said, “the beginning of a whole continuum of diversion programs to keep mentally ill and addicted people out of the jail.”

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