Commander Kevin Huddle, the Sheriff’s Office point person for Stepping Up, closed the meeting with this statistic: In 1960, when the United States population was 150 million, there were 600,000 mental-health beds; today, he said, the population is 330 million, and there are 60,000 beds.
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Nearly 20 percent of low-income people in states that did not expand Medicaid said they passed up needed medical care in the past 12 months because they couldn’t afford it. That compared to 9.4 percent in states that expanded the program.
“We have good science,” Fred Osher, M.D., a retired health systems and services policy director for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, told us. “We have policies that are associated with a reduction of people with mental illnesses in the justice system. But we haven’t put it together and sustained it over time.”
The center is a step toward solving a problem that has long plagued the criminal justice system, said John Wetzel, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections. “The notion that we’re delivering behavioral health services and mental health services in the criminal justice system more than any other system is a national embarrassment,” he said.
Key agency administrators, staff, and consumer advocates from the mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice system in Scotts Bluff County participated in Sequential Intercept Mapping which focused strategic planning efforts on cross-systems collaboration and the reduction of system and service barriers with an integrated, local action plan.
Rhonda Benson, executive director of the Butler County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said each honoree epitomizes the purpose of the Stepping Up Initiative, which is to provide services and help for the mentally ill rather than having them repeatedly jailed.
Miami County is already trying to do a lot of things recommended by the Stepping Up program, pointing to the partnership between the Sheriff’s Office, the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, and the Miami County Recovery Council.
Six of the 24 Stepping Up counties were invited to the BPIA as “Best Practices” teams representing the Data-Driven Justice initiative and the Stepping Up initiative. Best Practices teams showcased their approaches and programs to “Implementation” teams.
Stepping Up has led to better coordination between providers including Community and Family Resources, the UnityPoint Health—Berryhill Center and Fort Dodge Community Health, says Jen Sheehan, justice coordinator.
Part of a law enforcement officer’s job is to defuse a situation before it gets out of hand. Another part is keeping the spark from being lit in the first place. That’s where a better understanding of mental illness can help—and where a new partnership between the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness comes in.