The Stepping Up initiative is pushing to help move the mentally ill out of prisons and into appropriate mental health treatment. This national initiative is backed by the American Psychiatric Foundation, the National Association of Counties and the Council on State Government Justice Center. Approximately 2 million inmates in the country have a serious mental illness. Out of that population, about 75 percent have problems with drug and alcohol addiction.
The initiative calls for a national summit to help county-run projects address this issue, improve accessibility to mental health treatment services and find other alternatives to incarceration for those struggling with mental health disorders. It also seeks to encourage counties as a whole to commit to taking steps towards toward improving law enforcement protocols when it comes to handling citizens who suffer from mental illnesses.
Jails spend two to three times more on mentally ill inmates than they do on inmates who do not suffer from these conditions. Once these mentally ill inmates are incarcerated, they tend have longer stays in jails and are more likely to be re-incarcerated than people without mental illnesses. The additional time and resources that are needed to take care of individuals with mental illnesses leaves the criminal justice systems with a large surge of expenses and it does little help for public safety or the individuals who struggle with these conditions. The influx of inmates with mental illnesses into the U.S. jail system has caused overpopulation of prisons and a significant lack of mental health treatment to those who truly need it.
County and behavioral health officials across the country have come forward in support of the initiative. Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners in Kansas states, “These efforts include training criminal justice professionals to identify mental illness and respond appropriately as well as designing programs that connect people to the treatment and services they need.”
Lake County in California is one of many other areas demonstrating support of the initiative. Kim Fraser, an Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board executive director, has stated that the county agency invested $1.3 million into criminal justice each year; the majority of this money is used to divert individuals out of jails and prisons. Fraser noted, “We are committed at looking at new and better ways to help divert them from incarceration and into outpatient treatment.”
The new programs that will arise out of this initiative will help ensure that law enforcement is properly educated on handling cases involving persons who are mentally ill. They will also set up means of communication between law enforcement and mental health facilities to make sure these patients receive significant mental health treatment. “We’re very fortunate the police departments do partner with us,” Fraser said. “We know if law enforcement has the tools to deal with this, we can use those tools to help divert them.”
Serious mental illnesses affect millions of Americans every day. Sovereign Health Group is among the leading mental health treatment providers in the country. We offer various inpatient and outpatient treatment options for patients who are struggling with mental health disorders, drug addiction, and dual diagnosis. If someone who know is struggling with a serious mental illness and is in need of mental health treatment, please do not hesitate to call or talk to a member of our team online.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer