The Stepping Up Initiative is a national effort to divert people with mental illness from jails and into treatment. The campaign brings together a powerful coalition of national organizations, including NAMI, Council of State Governments Justice Center, National Association of Counties, American Psychiatric Foundation and numerous law enforcement associations, mental health organizations, and substance abuse organizations.
The human toll of this problem—and its cost to taxpayers—is staggering. Jails spend two to three times more money on adults with mental illnesses that require intervention than on those without those needs, yet often do not see improvements to public safety or these individuals’ health. Although counties have made tremendous efforts to address this problem, they are often thwarted by significant obstacles, including operating with minimal resources and needing better coordination between criminal justice, mental health, substance use treatment, and other agencies. Without change, large numbers of people with mental illnesses will continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for these individuals and their families, missed opportunities for connections to treatment, inefficient use of funding, and a failure to improve public safety.
Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask serves as a blueprint for counties to assess their existing efforts to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in jail by considering specific questions and progress-tracking measures. Here are the six questions county leaders need to ask:
- Is your leadership committed?
- Do you have timely screening and assessment?
- Do you have baseline data?
- Have you conducted a comprehensive process analysis and service inventory?
- Have you prioritized policy, practice, and funding?
- Do you track progress?
All project activities align and focus on the four key measures promoted by Stepping Up:
- Reduce the number of people with mental illness booked into jail
- Shorten the average length of stay for people with mental illness in jails
- Increase the percentage of connection to care for people with mental illness in jail
- Lower the rates of recidivism