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Johnson County one of four launch sites for national Stepping Up initiative

Johnson County leaders and national experts today announced the County’s participation in Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illness in Jails. This unprecedented national collaboration is being led nationally through a joint effort of the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF).  This week these partners are launching the Stepping Up Initiative in four jurisdictions: Johnson County, Washington D.C., Miami-Dade County, FL and Sacramento, CA.

“The fact that we are among this very select and impressive group of jurisdictions reflects the hard work Johnson County has already done to help decrease the number of people in jail who have a mental illness,” says Chairman Ed Eilert, Johnson County Board of County Commissioners. “These efforts include training criminal justice professionals to identify mental illness and respond appropriately as well as designing programs that connect people to the treatment and services they need.”

Johnson County’s Stepping Up launch event took place on May 5 at the Johnson County Crisis Recovery Center, a facility that opened in 2006 and has served approximately 1300 individuals.

Event speakers included:

  • Johnson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ed Eilert
  • Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning
  • Johnson County Mental Health Director Tim DeWeese
  • Johnson County resident Howard Snyder, family member of a Johnson County Mental Health Center client
  • El Paso County, CO Commissioner and NACo First Vice President Sallie Clark
  • CSG Board Member At-Large and former Kansas State Rep. Pat Colloton

Johnson County’s response: past, present and future

Johnson County already has several programs in place to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail. Since 2010, the Mental Health Co-responder program has embedded mental health therapists into law enforcement agencies (Olathe and Overland Park police departments so far) to respond to the scene of calls potentially involving someone suffering from mental illness. Another program is the Crisis Recovery Center. This licensed 10-bed crisis residential facility has full-time staff that provides support and supervision in a safe environment.

In December 2014, NACo and CSG put out a national Call to Action for counties to “Step Up” and commit to a collaborative effort to create an action plan aimed at reducing the jail population of people with mental illness. Johnson County answered the Call to Action, and due to the work already done here in this arena, was chosen as a launch site for the Stepping Up Initiative.

On April 30, 2015 the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners adopted a Certificate of Resolution committing the County to key actions outlined in the Stepping Up initiative, including collecting data to determine the extent of the problem within the County jails, developing a plan with a team of diverse stakeholders that draws on proven research to combat the problem, and designing an approach to track progress. The initiative will provide additional research-based direction to develop an actionable plan that makes more effective use of budgets, facilitates access to treatment and promotes appropriate alternatives to jail.

A National Public Health and Safety Crisis

The number of people with mental illnesses in U.S. jails has reached a crisis level. People who deal with this problem every day agree: The current approach does nothing to improve public safety, stresses already strained budgets and hurts people with mental illness and their loved ones.

  • There are more than two million adults with serious mental illnesses admitted to jails each year, many of whom also have drug and alcohol use problems.
  • Once incarcerated, people with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and are at a higher risk of re-incarceration than individuals without these illnesses.
  • Jails spend two to three times more on people with mental illnesses than they do on people without those needs.
  • The additional time and resources devoted to these individuals result in strained budgets and burdened taxpayers while doing little to impact the individuals, or public safety, in a positive way.

For more information on The Stepping Up Initiative, visit www.stepuptogether.org.