The National Stepping Up Initiative

Classmates looking for support without stigma or bias

By: Jomel Silverio, Advocate

In class this past week we spoke about signs and symptoms of mental illness and trauma. This topic reached home for a select few of the class mates in our class, the It’s T.I.M.E. class. The main topic of interest was the difference in acceptance into the Behavioral Health Court and mediation programs for those who committed violent crimes as opposed to non-violent crimes, even though both groups of people share mental illness as a way of life.

One of the classmates, who is now 49 years old, spoke about the harsh reality he faced as a child in foster care, and having to turn to a life of crime, due to the fact that nothing else was readily available as an alternative for a better life. He, like many others in the class we have facilitated, never had a family and supports that would accept him.

The conversation was reciprocal for another student in the class, who is now 45. They spoke about the injustice they face, and that the problem was mostly systemic. The class listened to these two speak about the inequality that plagues inmates who either spend the majority of their lives in jail, or have to return to the same people, places, and things that presented a life of trouble. The conversation flowed without interruption, and I expressed that change comes with numbers, and that no matter how small the change may be, it is still significant to those lives that are given a moment of clarity. As was discussed in the class, not being accepted in the BHC program, can be stressful and discouraging, especially because the acceptance criterion is so specific and exclusive.

The main theme I felt from this class is that far too many people fall through the cracks. There is a need for employment, education, and acceptance for those who have moved beyond the past and are ready to change their lives. There is a need for support without stigma and without bias.

The Stepping Up Initiative Comes to Montgomery County

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.