By Sharon Cohen
About 2 million times each year, the seriously mentally ill are admitted to jails nationwide; nearly three-fourths of these inmates also have drug or alcohol problems, according to the Stepping Up Initiative. That program, launched in 2015, aims to divert such inmates to alternative programs. It’s working with nearly 500 counties in 43 states. About 4 to 5% of Americans are seriously mentally ill, compared with as many as 18% of those in jails, according to Risë Haneberg, who leads the initiative on behalf of The Council of State Governments Justice Center. That number is dramatically lower than what many jails report, but Haneberg says that’s because jails often use a broader definition of mental illness and may include substance abuse disorders.