By: Kathie Mitchell
The Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution in May to officially join the national Stepping Up Initiative which focuses on reducing the number of individuals with mental illnesses in county jails across the country.
By its proclamation, Montgomery County joins more than 350 other counties representing 35% of the United States’ population, to commit actions toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in their local jails.
In May 2015, The Stepping Up Initiative was launched. It is a partnership between the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), the National Association of Counties, and The American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
In January 2015, the Montgomery County Forensic Mental Health Coalition was formed in response to concerns from local advocates, families, mental health providers, corrections and community corrections about the need to tackle the issue which has been labeled “the criminalization of the mentally ill.”
The county’s Forensic MH Coalition has adopted four goals:
- Reduce the number of people with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) who are booked into jail;
- Reduce the length of time people with SMI stay in jail;
- Increase the number of people with SMI getting connected to community-based services and supports, and
- Reduce the number of people with SMI returning to jail.
The Coalition has a Steering Committee which meets monthly. There are three working committees – Data, Diversion and Reentry -that also meet on a regular basis.
By joining the national initiative, the county becomes the 14th county in the state to join the initiative. The county will have access to technical assistance that is offered through webinars and the partnerships’ resources.
In addition, Pennsylvania launched a statewide Stepping Up Initiative on April 4, making it just the third state in the country to take on the issue, following Ohio and California, the CSG Justice Center reported.
At the county and state level in PA, local leaders and community stakeholders will follow a roadmap that addresses six key questions that the community must answer in order to develop a comprehensive strategy to impact the problem. The roadmap addresses key elements of a successful plan, including the need for screening and assessments for mental illness upon admission to jail; establishing a baseline for data for counties to follow; tracking progress on key outcomes, such as recidivism rates, and ensuring connections to treatment, according to the CSG Justice Center.