On June 13, the agency at 1400 Sherrick Road SE, will host a daylong workshop.
Every day, the people at the Greater Stark County Urban League work with ex-felons in search of jobs, housing and education.
Some are repeat offenders, a problem which sometimes stems from undiagnosed mental health issues that lead to criminal behavior. On Wednesday, the agency at 1400 Sherrick Road SE, will host a daylong workshop “The Silent Dilemma: Addressing the Emotional, Mental & Physical Components of Incarceration.”
The workshop is a collaborative between the Urban League, the Mental Health Recovery Services Board of Stark County and Community Services of Stark County.
“The reason I wanted to do this workshop is because the incarceration rate in the community has increased,” said Karen L. McLeod, a community mental health administrative assistant with Community Services.
McLeod said when ex-offenders suffer from mental health woes it not only affects them but also their families. An estimated one-third of all prisoners have a mental health issue.
Vince Watts, Urban League president and chief executive officer, said the workshop is ideal for people in the fields of criminal justice, social services, education and mental health.
“We know there are mental health issues in the inner city that we haven’t built up the capacity to deal with in the community,” he said. “We want to look at how we can help professionals with what they may be seeing in helping these families. We’re looking at building understanding and cultural competency.”
Sylvester Huston Jr., a psychologist with Community Services, said the majority of ex-offenders he counsels have some form of mental-health issue, from depression and anxiety to anger.
“I see a lot of undiagnosed problems,” he said. “Parenting is a major problem for (ex-offenders). A lot of them were never themselves parented.”
Huston said untreated mental health issues can be generational, “So you have 90-year-old grandparents trying to raise 6-year-olds.”
“We’re picking up on issues when people get out of prison that they had going in,” Watts said. “We’re trying to help them not go back. ... There’s a whole mental health issue in just being poor.”
Sylvester said the black community in particular has been reluctant to broach the topic.
“We as a community really don’t embrace mental heath services,” he said. “There’s a good deal of stigma in the African American community.”
Watts sees the problems firsthand because the Urban League offers programming to help ex-offenders.
“I can find you a job, but you won’t keep it because you haven’t learned how to deal with your anger,” he said. “We’re trying to get people in a state of mind to adjust and operate within regular society so they can be successful. The first step is recognizing the problem. The key is undiagnosed mental health issues.”
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Sylvester said he was happy to learn that several college administrators are planning to attend, given that local schools are seeing an influx of former felons.
McLeod said that in addition to treatment, ex-felons also must be given more opportunities to work.
“If you don’t, they will go back to what they know,” she said.
Sylvester said mental health treatment for ex-felons on an outpatient basis often fails because medication is dispensed with no understanding of the disease process, and felons are not provided with strategies to cope with their illness.
Watts said it’s to society’s benefit to help ex-felons in need of mental health services, noting that it costs $30,000 a year to house a prisoner.
“Either help them be productive or they will be a drain on our resources,” he said. “It’s not about them, it’s about us.”
The workshop will offer continuing education hours. Lunch will be provided. To register, or for more information, contact McLeod at 330-456-3479, ext. 118, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.