Counties from across the country participated in May’s Stepping Up Month of Action. The goal of this national initiative is to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Since launching in May 2015 by NACo, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, nearly 500 counties across 43 states have signed on to join the initiative. Last year, dozens of counties participated in the Stepping Up Day of Action to highlight the important work happening in their communities.
For this year’s Month of Action, counties across the country highlighted their efforts toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Counties were encouraged to participate in or host a range of activities to highlight their progress, showcase their Stepping Up teams, share experiences of people impacted by their efforts and encourage their peers to join the movement.
Many counties passed proclamations in support of the Month of Action and provided updates to their county boards, their local media and their communities about their initiatives’ progress.
Below is a sampling of some of the county activities in May that raised awareness of this critical issue.
Alachua County, Fla., held a townhall meeting at the local police department to highlight the success of partnerships and programs to address this need. For instance, 70 percent of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office staff has received Crisis Intervention Team and mental health first-aid training. Teams made up of Gainesville Police Department officers and mental health clinicians were created to respond to calls for service involving a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Data shows the number of people experiencing a serious mental health crisis while in jail decreased by 34 percent between 2014 and 2018.
Berks County, Pa., became a Stepping Up Innovator County in April 2019 due to its efforts to collect accurate data on people in jails who have mental illnesses. Since joining Stepping Up, data collection and sharing has been a high priority for the county, helping to effectively and efficiently assess and treat residents will mental illnesses who are involved in the justice and behavioral health systems.
Boone County, Mo., issued a proclamation recognizing May 2019 as the Stepping Up Month of Action and shared a press release highlighting the county’s success with the initiative since joining four years ago. The county has focused much of its efforts on prevention through addressing housing needs and the availability of behavioral health resources. It has used data to identify some of the highest utilizers of its various systems for targeting interventions such as wrap-around services. The courts hold regular case review meetings to more effectively and efficiently address mental health needs of individuals involved in the justice system. And the Sheriff’s Department has led efforts to share data and train law enforcement efforts to better respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Chatham County, Ga., proclaimed May as Mental Health Awareness Month and hosted the 4th Annual Mental Health Symposium with more than 250 attendees. The county also used this month to break ground for its new Behavioral Health Crisis Center: A 24/7 walk-in crisis intervention, assessment and stabilization facility in Chatham County. The county has worked hard to engage federal, state and local stakeholders to effectively address mental health needs by educating the public, increasing early intervention programs and removing gaps to increase access to treatment.
Cherokee County, Ala., held community meetings throughout the month of May and the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to participate in the Month of Action as part of its Stepping Up commitment. Meetings involved presentations on Mental Health First Aid training, a local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter gathering and an update to the Board on the county’s efforts. For example, a social worker inside the Cherokee County Detention Center has been working to evaluate every person booked into the jail for mental illness and substance use disorders and work with partner agencies and community services to get treatment and services in place, reducing the amount of time a person is in the jail and helping them towards recovery.
Cleveland County, Okla., posted about its efforts on social media, including sharing data from the sheriff’s office. One of the positive actions they’ve taken at the Cleveland County Detention Center is to implement a screening process to identify people in need of services and to make referrals. Referrals are also made for veterans and people experiencing homelessness.
Dallas County, Texas, proclaimed May 7 as its Stepping Up Day of Action and shared progress at an open commissioners’ court meeting. Since joining the movement in 2015 the commissioners’ court has collaboratively worked with law enforcement, the courts, the jail and human services agencies to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in the county jail, divert them once arrested via the Smart Justice Diversion Program, provide better treatment and competency restoration while in custody, link them to services once released and improve outcomes for some of the county’s most vulnerable residents.
Dauphin County, Pa., established a Stepping Up committee that meets monthly to review data collection efforts and trends, complete exercises from the Stepping Up Project Coordinator Handbook and review current action steps, barriers and limitations. The county has also started a new case planning forum where members from the justice, behavioral health and human services agencies meet weekly to discuss case plans and diversion options for individuals in the jail. The county is also in the process of hiring diversion specialists, providing CIT training to law enforcement officers and implementing a co-responder program for law enforcement and mental health clinicians.
Douglas County, Kan., hosted an event to recognize the community collaboration and work that has been accomplished to significantly reduce the number of people with serious mental illnesses in the Douglas County Correctional Facility. In conjunction with Stepping Up, Douglas County has implemented a number of programs and policies to help them achieve their overall goal, such as establishing a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and hiring dedicated staff to serve as coordinators and analysts, integrating a mental health screening tool into the jail, funding a behavioral health court, creating a case management program and starting a pretrial release program.
Douglas County, Neb., held a press conference showcasing its designation as the twelfth Stepping Up Innovator County and highlighting the progress and steps that have led up to this achievement. The county hired a director to oversee the Stepping Up efforts and created a work group to look specifically at data. It also focused on training law enforcement officers in CIT and is now screening everyone who comes into the jail for symptoms of mental illness. Douglas County also started a “Familiar Faces” project for people who cycle in and out of the jail and local hospitals to better receive coordinated services.
Fairfax County, Va., provided an update of its efforts on its website and also shared videos on social media highlighting county mental health and crisis services. Close to 1,400 people have been diverted from potential arrest thanks to the county’s Diversion First initiative. Diversion First offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and co-occurring substance use disorders who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses.
Forsyth County, N.C., celebrated its second Stepping Up Process to End Recidivism graduation in May, honoring three women who’ve been committed to the recovery process and out of jail for at least a year. The yearlong program gives support services after release to women with mental illnesses and substance use disorders who were incarcerated at the Forsyth County Detention Center. The local Stepping Up initiative also held a Day of Action, where staff and participants planted flowers at the Mental Health Association.
Johnson County, Kan., launched a social media campaign to highlight different aspects of its initiative throughout the month of May. Program highlights featured videos and testimonials about the county’s veteran’s treatment court, mental health first aid training, mental health and law enforcement co-responder program and its cross-functional juvenile justice team.
Lewis and Clark County, Mont., passed a proclamation declaring the Board of Commissioner’s commitment to Stepping Up and posted the reading of the proclamation on social media. The county also hosted a luncheon to educate the community on its continued Stepping Up efforts to make sure people with mental illness are receiving the treatment and services they need in the appropriate settings to improve outcomes and reduce recidivism.
Marion County, Iowa, worked with the media to share a story highlighting progress the county is making through partnership with the County Rural Offices of Social Services Region. The region has trained law enforcement officers in several counties in CIT and implemented a program where jail re-entry staff provide referrals to people as they are being discharged from jail. It has established a 24/7 crisis line, telepsychiatry services, an Assertive Community Treatment program and is in the process of creating an access center for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
McLean County, Ill., launched a social media campaign to highlight its progress with Stepping Up. One priority area of the McLean County Mental Health Action Plan was to enhance coordination and collaboration by forming two groups in 2016: The Mental Health Advisory Board and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council. In addition, nearly 100 percent of all officers in the county are CIT trained, and the county continues to push for data sharing and collaboration to better drive planning, programming and outcomes.
Mendocino County, Calif., held its first community forum in partnership with the local NAMI chapter to share information on the county’s efforts to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the county’s jail. Speakers included leaders from the California State Association of Counties and national Stepping Up partner, the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
Miami-Dade County, Fla., hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery. The 208-bed center will serve individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders who are diverted from the criminal justice system and will offer a comprehensive continuum of behavioral and primary healthcare services targeting high-cost, high-need individuals who are most often underserved by the public health system. The center is one of many innovations happening in the county along with law enforcement and mental health partnerships and court diversion programs.
Pacific County, Wash., partnered with a local mental health advocacy group to host its 10th Annual Mental Wellness Walk to raise awareness of this issue in their community. Pacific County became a Stepping Up Innovator County in 2018 due to its proficiency in accurately identifying and collecting data on people with mental illnesses coming into the county jail.
Pettis County, Mo., hosted its second annual mental health summit to highlight progress with its Stepping Up initiative. Speakers from both criminal justice and mental health agencies provided updates on CIT training for law enforcement officers as well as programs to reduce suicides, provide trauma-informed care and improve community connections.
Santa Clara County, Calif., held a public and media event at its Reentry Resource Center. The event featured presentations and panel discussions to address challenges and share strategies to reduce the number of adults with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in jail. Santa Clara County offers mental health and a drug treatment court, as well as a peer respite home for people experiencing a mental health crisis and a residential behavioral health treatment program.
Santa Fe County, N.M., leaders from the Adult Detention Facility presented to the County Policy and Planning Committee, which provides behavioral health and medical direction to the Santa Fe County Commissioners, on the facility’s integrated medical and behavioral health services as part of its Stepping Up efforts. Jail services include a pilot matrix substance abuse psychoeducational program, which utilizes a modified therapeutic community within the detention center, opiate overdose prevention services utilizing MAT and enhanced re-entry services.