By Edward Husar
The Marion County Commission on Monday heard about a program that tries to prevent county jails from becoming holding tanks for people with mental illness.
The program, dubbed “Stepping Up,” is already being used in three Missouri counties–Boone, Pettis and Audrain. Marion County officials are trying to decide if they should give it a try.
“It really sounds like a great thing,” said Marion County Assessor Mark Novak, who invited two representatives from Pettis and Boone counties to Marion County to discuss the program.
Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond and Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson spent nearly an hour Monday talking with commissioners and several other county officials. Both said the Stepping Up program has helped divert people with mental illness to various local agencies and social service programs that can give them some help.
“The basic goal is to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the county jail,” Bond said. “We know that you can be able to see results in your community if you’re willing to step up.”
Thompson said people with mental illness often end up being incarcerated because many states, including Missouri, have closed mental health facilities for budgetary reasons. She said many mentally ill people end up behind bars because they aren’t getting the treatment or medications they need to lead productive lives, and they end up as vagrants or otherwise get in trouble with the law.
She said one man in Boone County had been taken to the county jail 32 times because he wasn’t getting help for the underlying mental health issues he was facing. “It’s easier when you catch them early on and address the mental illness piece of it,” Thompson said.