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Johnson County named Stepping Up Innovator County for efforts to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail

Johnson County was selected as one of seven counties in the nation as a Stepping Up Innovator County for its expertise in taking actions to reduce the number of people in jail who experience mental illness.

As an Innovator County, Johnson County’s efforts will be highlighted as part of a new push from Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails to help counties consistently identify and collect data on this population.

“On behalf of the Board of County Commissioners, I want to congratulate the county professionals — mental health clinicians, law enforcement officers and many others — who have worked hard to earn this national designation and to better serve our community’s vulnerable populations,” said Chairman Ed Eilert.

Each of the seven Innovator Counties is using the Stepping Up suggested three-step approach to having accurate, accessible data on people who have serious mental illness in their jails.

Those steps include:

  • establish a shared definition of serious mental illness for local criminal justice and behavioral health systems’ Stepping Up efforts;
  • ensure everyone booked into jail is screened for mental illness and those who screen positive are referred to a follow-up clinical assessment; and
  • regularly report on this population.

“Every day, people with mental illness are booked into jails across the country,” said Mental Health Center Director Tim DeWeese. “The number of people who have mental illnesses in jail is three to six times higher than that of the general public. We’re grateful to the county’s leadership for making Stepping Up a priority, allowing us to help those who experience mental illness avoid incarceration and to receive the help they deserve.”

Since being selected to join the Stepping Up initiative as one of the first four participating jurisdictions, Johnson County expanded its mental health co-responder program across the county to include 11 police jurisdictions and 14 cities; implemented a brief mental health screen during jail booking; enhanced the partnership between the Mental Health Center and the Department of Corrections; developed a veterans treatment court; improved outreach efforts to the community; and strengthened data-sharing efforts through My Resource Connection, a county database connecting residents to services they need. 

“The Sheriff’s Office has played an important role in the Stepping Up initiative, allowing us to work across county departments and agencies to better serve those who experience mental illness,” said Sheriff Cal Hayden. “The co-responder program typifies the innovative ways our county government can come together to better serve our community.”

The seven initial Stepping Up Innovator Counties are: Calaveras County, California; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Champaign County, Illinois; Douglas County, Kansas; Johnson County, Kansas, Franklin County, Ohio; and Pacific County, Washington.

Johnson County will help other counties improve their data collection efforts by participating in training sessions, taking part in presentations, and sharing information and their experiences through the Stepping Up website, among other activities.

Stepping Up was launched in May 2015 by The Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Since that time, more than 425 counties — including Johnson County — in 43 states, representing 40 percent of the U.S. population, have committed to the Stepping Up goal.

ABOUT THE STEPPING UP INITIATIVE

Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. The initiative — a collaboration between The Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation — asks communities to come together to develop an action plan that can be used to achieve a measurable impact in local criminal justice systems of all sizes across the country. Go online for more information.