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Unprecedented National Summit 5/2/16  05/01/16 11:13:49 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Unprecedented National Summit Gathers
Teams From 50 Counties to Reduce Number
Of People With Mental Illnesses in Jails

A team of criminal justice and behavioral health professionals from Douglas County, Nebraska attended a two-day summit last week that brought together select teams from U.S. communities of all sizes as part of a national initiative to address the mental health crisis in our nation’s jails.
The Stepping Up Summit, which convened jail administrators, law enforcement officials, county elected officials, psychiatrists and other stakeholders from 50 jurisdictions across the country, was designed to give attendees a clear understanding of what constitutes a comprehensive, system-level plan that, when implemented, will reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail.

The team from Douglas County consisted of: Commissioners Mary Ann Borgeson and Mike Boyle; Region 6 Program Administrator Patti Jurjevich; Douglas County Legislative Director and Labor Negotiator Marcos San Martín, and Douglas County Corrections Director Mark Foxall.
“The summit provided an opportunity to network with counties from across the country who are working to accomplish the same goal of decriminalizing mental illness and thus reducing the number of individuals with mental illness in our jails.  It provided us a better understanding of what specific screening, data collection, and personnel trainings have been proven essential for making progress in addressing how mental illness affects our justice system – and ultimately, to stop the madness of treating folks with mental illness in our jail,” said Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson.
The 50 jurisdictions selected to attend consist of a cross-section of urban, suburban and rural counties representing 37 states. Each team includes local policymakers and stakeholders prepared to enhance efforts and take action to address this national crisis.  At the two-day summit, county teams took stock of work already underway in their counties and chart a path forward. To that end, attendees considered six questions related to the commitment of local leadership, use of screening and assessments, the level of baseline data that currently exists, tracking progress and other items.
Stepping Up was launched in May 2015 as a partnership of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. The initiative is designed to rally national, state and local leaders around the goal of achieving an actual reduction in the number of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in jail. Over the past year, more than 250 counties, representing nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population, have passed resolutions to advance the goals of Stepping Up.
The progression of Stepping Up reflects a new agreement among county leaders across the country on one central truth: Jails should no longer serve as de facto psychiatric facilities. Many communities have already taken action to address the crisis locally, and many in the medical community have put its weight behind collaborating to affect change.
Despite the passionate commitments and efforts of many communities to make an impact, county leaders report there are more people with mental illnesses in jails than ever before, and the majority of these people are not a public safety risk. According to a 2009 study published in Psychiatric Services titled, “Prevalence of Serious Mental Illness Among Jail Inmates,” the number of people with mental illnesses in jails is three-to-six times higher than that of the general public. These numbers refer to jail admissions; even greater numbers of individuals have mental illnesses that are not “serious” mental illnesses, but still require resource-intensive responses.
As a result, local budgets are strained by jails spending two-to-three times more on people with mental illnesses than they do on people without those needs. The exorbitant cost to taxpayers to arrest, adjudicate, segregate and supervise these individuals is having little-to-no impact in terms of public safety or public health.
Douglas County and other county teams engaged with criminal justice and behavioral health experts, along with fellow county representatives from across the country, to consider the latest research and strategies and learn from the challenges and approaches other jurisdictions have experienced.
Douglas County team members worked onsite to develop and evaluate plans to reduce mental illness in the local jail and walked away with a concrete set of priorities to take action and measure progress on their plans.
“We are very appreciative of being one of the 50 counties chosen to participate in the summit and are ready to move our initiative forward to reduce the number of individuals with mental illnesses in the Douglas County jail. The summit created a collaborative platform for counties to share their successes, failures, goals and ideas to address mental health issues in their individual justice systems,” said Commissioner Mike Boyle.
The Stepping Up Summit is made possible through the support of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, which acknowledges the generous funding from Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Charitable Trust, Alkermes, and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. The Stepping Up Initiative is also grateful for the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

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