County Joins National Initiative to Reduce Jail Bookings, Connect Mentally Ill Inmates to Help

South Washington County Bulletin

By Jackie Renzetti

Joining a national movement, Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry has pledged to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail.

Alongside the county’s community corrections, public health and community services departments, the Sheriff’s Office has signed on to a national initiative called Stepping Up. Co-founded in 2015 by the American Psychiatric Foundation, National Association of Counties, and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the program asks counties to devise plans that meet four goals: lowering the number of mentally ill people booked into jail, shortening time spent in jail, connecting people to resources and reducing recidivism, or the tendency of offenders to repeat criminal behavior.

Washington County already has a few methods that help with these goals, Starry said. All officers have crisis intervention training, and the county recently started its own mobile crisis response unit to respond to calls from residents in a mental health crisis. The Washington County jail also screens for mental illness and has services available within the jail, Starry said.

“But this program goes a step further,” he said. “It brings together community health, corrections, community services and the Sheriff’s Office to examine: what are we doing? Is it the right approach?”

The county has hired a coordinator to help answer these questions by collecting data and overseeing collaboration among the departments, Starry said.

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