A team of criminal justice and behavioral health professionals from Johnson County attended a two-day summit in Washington D.C. last week that brought together select teams from U.S. counties of all sizes as part of a national initiative to address the mental health crisis in our nation’s jails.
The Stepping Up Summit convened jail administrators, law enforcement officials, county elected officials, mental health professionals and other stakeholders from 50 jurisdictions across the country. The Johnson County delegation included Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, Assistant County Manager Maury Thompson, Johnson County Mental Health Director Tim DeWeese and Criminal Justice Coordinator Robert Sullivan.
"The goal is and has always been to identify those in crisis, get them the appropriate intervention while they are incarcerated and have a plan for their release that reduces recidivism," said Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning. "We have to change our behavior to try to change their behavior".
“We have taken many steps in addressing this in Johnson County, including the use of Crisis Intervention Team Training for Officers, the Co-Responders Program, and the Crisis Stabilization Center. The additions of our Mental Health Diversion Program and Veteran’s Treatment Court have also been effective in keeping the mentally ill out of our jail. This conference gave us the tools to build upon our positive momentum,” said Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.
At the two-day summit, county teams evaluated work already underway in their counties and charted a path forward. They discussed 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 National Association of Counties, The Council of State Governments Justice Center, and The American Psychiatric Association Foundation. It launched in Johnson County, along with Washington D.C., Miami-Dade County, FL and Sacramento, CA.
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.