Stepping Up Summit: Counties Convene to Discuss Mental Health and Jails

At the National Stepping Up Summit in April county leaders and experts from across the nation gathered to talk about the mental health crisis plaguing local jails.

Participants shared best practices for diversion and other approaches for decreasing the number of individuals with mental illness in jails.

As reported on NACo County News:

NACo President Sallie Clark put the challenge in perspective for attendees

“We’re not professionals in mental health issues,” she said. “We’re not professionals, necessarily, in law enforcement.

“For us, we want to make sure that we’re asking the right questions,” in framing the problem correctly and providing support for change where necessary.

“It’s hard to convince others it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

For that matter, though many urban counties participated, the Stepping Up Summit also made room for rural counties to discuss how they approach the problem of reducing the occurrence of mental illness in jails despite lower population density.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, who worked as a correctional officer in Franklin and Berks counties, said counties had to have clear plans for where offenders would go each step of the way, and make it clear who will benefit.

“If what you’re doing, I can’t draw a line to how it’s going to benefit me, I’m not inclined to invest,” he said.

Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center Director Michael Thompson sketched the future of the Stepping Up initiative, which may include providing technical assistance to counties that demonstrate potential for reducing the number of people with mental illness in their jails and designing and implementing state and local collaborations in selected jurisdictions.

CSG is considering holding an annual national summit of county teams and a diverse group of stakeholders to advance comprehensive plans for system change and highlight promising practices and help counties track their progress.

The three-day summit, was sponsored by NACo, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the Council of State Governments Justice Center and included teams from 50 counties, out of more than 200 applicants.

For more information read the full article on NACo County News.