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Berks County, Pa. becomes latest Stepping Up ‘Innovator’

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Berks County, Pa. has been working to close gaps in programs that keep people with mental illness out of its jail

Last month, Berks County, Pa., was named the newest Stepping Up Innovator County for its efforts to collect accurate data on people in jails who have mental illnesses.

Berks County joined the national Stepping Up initiative in December 2015, passing a resolution to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. But even before passing the resolution, county leaders were working to address this issue by completing a cross-systems mapping exercise to identify gaps in its processes and programs and implementing a forensic diversion program and forensic case management.

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Stepping Up Innovator counties

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Watch webinar: Three Steps to Identifying and Collecting Data on People with Mental Illnesses in Your Jail

Data and information-sharing have always been a priority for the county.

“As chair of our County Prison Board and the [County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania] Comprehensive Behavioral Health Task Force,” Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said, “it is extremely important to me that we engage in a two-way sharing of information and knowledge that all can learn and implement best practices that are custom to their unique criminal justice needs.”

Last May, the national Stepping Up partners launched the Stepping Up Innovator Counties project as a way to highlight counties that are meeting the recommended three-step approach to gathering accurate, accessible data on the prevalence of people in their jails who have serious mental illness (SMI).

The three-step approach includes:

  1. Establish a shared definition of SMI for your Stepping Up efforts that is used throughout local criminal justice and behavioral health systems.
  2. Use a validated mental health screening tool on every person booked into the jail and refer people who screen positive for symptoms of SMI to a follow-up clinical assessment by a licensed mental health professional, and
  3. Record clinical assessment results and regularly report on this population.

 “It’s time to stop talking about mental health in our county jails and to start making a real difference,” said Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach. “That’s why we joined this NACo effort and I’m so proud that our team, led by Dr. Michalik and Commissioner Barnhardt have done just that. We are making a difference for taxpayers and most importantly in the lives of the people dealing with serious mental health issues. It’s great to see that Berks County is a leader in the nation!”

So far, 11 counties of various sizes and locations [see list] have been designated as Stepping Up Innovator Counties and are available to help mentor other counties on how to implement this approach. County leaders are encouraged to reach out to NACo if they are meeting the three-step criteria and are interested in becoming Innovator Counties.

Berks County made a presentation on its process during a May 2 Stepping Up webinar. To view the recording, visit


Stepping Up going strong at four years

This month marks four years since the launch of Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails.*

Since it launched in May 2015, nearly 500 counties in 43 states have passed a Stepping Up resolution committing to building local leadership teams, identifying the number of people with mental illnesses who enter their jail system, ensuring that those people are connected with services and developing a comprehensive plan for systems-level change. More counties are joining every week!

To commemorate four years, Stepping Up is hosting a Month of Action in May, encouraging counties to highlight the progress and challenges happening in their own communities related to this effort. Find out more about how to participate in the Stepping Up Month of Action at

Stepping Up is the result of a collaboration between the National Association of Counties (NACo), The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APA Foundation).

Stepping Up Innovator Counties

  • Calaveras County, Calif.
  • Miami-Dade County, Fla.
  • Champaign County, Ill.
  • Polk County, Iowa
  • Douglas County, Kan.
  • Johnson County, Kan.
  • Hennepin County, Minn.
  • Franklin County, Ohio
  • Berks County, Pa.
  • Lubbock County, Texas
  • Pacific County, Wash.

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  • The Stepping Up Initiative

    In May 2015, NACo and partners at the CSG Justice Center and APA Foundation launched Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails.

    Learn More