By Phil Wright
Umatilla County is stepping up to reduce the number of mentally ill people in the county jail.
Commissioner George Murdock said mental illness is a major concern nationwide and Umatilla County is no different.
“We have way too many people in jail suffering from mental illness,” he said.
To help take on the problem, the county board of commissioners is adopting the Stepping Up Initiative, a national program to get county officials to work with law enforcement, judges, district attorneys and treatment providers to divert people with mental illness from jails and into treatment.
The National Association of Counties, The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation launched the initiative in May 2015. According to stepuptogether.org, the initiative’s website, 449 counties nationwide participate with 19 in Oregon, including Sherman, Gilliam and Union counties.
Murdock said the resolution to step into Stepping Up acknowledges the mental health situation the country faces:
•Two million people with serious mental illness end up in jails each year across the nation.
•Jail populations have three to six times as many adults suffering from serious mental illness as the general population.
•Adults with mental illness who go to jail tend to have longer stays and a higher rate of re-offending than people without mental illness.
Sheriff Terry Rowan earlier this year sought $1 million from the Legislature to renovate the jail to accommodate inmates with mental health issues. The state did not fund the investment.