This week, Sarpy County was named as one of a select group of Stepping Up Innovator Counties in the United States for its expertise in collecting baseline data on the number of people in its jail who have mental illnesses.
The Stepping Up initiative was launched in May 2015 by the National Association of Counties, The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation to mobilize local, state and national leaders to achieve a measurable reduction in the number of people in jail who have mental illnesses.
Sarpy County joined Stepping Up in June of 2015 and has taken significant steps toward reducing the number of people in its jail who have mental illnesses. The county created a Mental Health Leadership Team to guide a coordinated countywide response to the issue. Sarpy County’s Mental Health Diversion program diverts people toward treatment instead of incarceration, while Mental Health Case Management program provides intensive supervision to those awaiting trial, including treatment referrals and help establishing independent living skills. The Mental Health Collaboration Team, which includes representatives from Human Services, Community Corrections, Adult Corrections, Public Defender's Office and Region 6 Behaviorial Health, works to gather data on individuals in the criminal justice system with mental health challenges and coordinate response.
“Jails across the country have become de facto mental health facilities, with people in crisis cycling in and out of the system. It takes purposeful action and innovative ideas to break that cycle,” Sarpy County Board Chairman Don Kelly said.
The 13 Innovator Counties are using Stepping Up’s suggested three-step approach to collect and analyze timely data on the prevalence of people in their jails who have serious mental illnesses. These steps include establishing a shared definition of serious mental illness across criminal justice and behavioral health systems; ensuring everyone booked into jail is screened for mental illnesses; and regular reporting on this population.
“Our goal has to be finding ways to end the criminalization of mental illness. Sarpy County is committed to taking a leadership role in this effort, and becoming an Innovator County is recognition of the commitment,” Commissioner Kelly said.
As an Innovator County, Sarpy County will help other counties improve their data collection efforts by participating in training sessions, taking part in presentations and sharing information and experiences on the Stepping Up website.
To see a list of all Innovator Counties and find out more about Stepping Up, visit stepuptogether.org.
ABOUT THE STEPPING UP INITIATIVE
Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. The initiative, a collaboration between The Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, asks communities to come together to develop an action plan that can be used to achieve measurable impact in local criminal justice systems of all sizes across the country. For more information visit https://stepuptogether.org.