By the CSG Justice Center Staff
County leaders from across the country joined The National Association of Counties (NACo), The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) May 31 in Washington, DC, to celebrate the second anniversary of Stepping Up, a national initiative to lower the prevalence of mental illness in jails.
Since Stepping Up’s launch, more than 365 counties—representing 36 percent of the U.S. population—have passed resolutions to join the initiative and work to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in their jails.
“Stepping Up provides a boost to help counties respond to people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders in the justice system,” said Matthew Chase, NACo executive director. “Many of them need help, not jail time,”
At the anniversary event, USA Today’s Kevin Johnson moderated a discussion with initiative stakeholders and representatives from counties in South Carolina, Texas, and Colorado, among others, during which they shared the lessons they’ve learned so far and highlighted best practices in reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in their jails.
“By providing counties with the tools they need to identify people with mental illnesses in their jails, Stepping Up helps connect people with the treatment they need,” said Dan Gillison, executive director of APAF. “Increasing access to treatment makes a real difference in people’s lives.”
Stepping Up counties are guided in their work by an online toolkit and the initiative’s foundational document Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask. Considered a roadmap for local leaders, the document addresses key elements of a successful plan for reducing the prevalence of mental illness in jails, including the need for screening and assessments for mental illness upon admission to jail; establishing a baseline of data for counties to follow; tracking progress on key outcomes, such as recidivism rates; and ensuring connections to treatment for people leaving jail.
“Stepping Up provides counties with a framework and the technical assistance to create and enhance plans that are in line with best practices and at a scale necessary to make an impact on jail prevalence rates,” said Richard Cho, director of Behavioral Health at the CSG Justice Center.