Members of local and state agencies are meeting Tuesday and today for a workshop with a focus on mental health that encourages inter-agency collaboration, and diversion of the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system and into treatment programs.
Professionals from the SAMHSA’S GAINS Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation center presented the Sequential Intercept Mapping workshop to 40 individuals from local and state agencies in the Thompson Conference Center, at State Fair Community College. Several members of the Pettis County Stepping Up Initiative were chosen to participate.
The workshop, obtained by a grant written by Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, will help train individuals in a multi-disciplinarian approach in diverting those in need of mental health care from being stalemated in the criminal justice system without treatment.
“We’re going to have a great opportunity to look at the status of mental health in the criminal justice system within Pettis County, today and tomorrow morning,” Bond said Tuesday.
Bond explained to the group that he has been directing the local Stepping Up Initiative for nine months.
“The Stepping Up Initiative is a unique opportunity that is a joint project with the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association,” he added. “They were able to get a grant that facilitates local communities like ours to step up in addressing the issue of the problems of mental health and mental illness in our communities.
“The goal of the Stepping Up Initiative is to reduce the number of people with mental illness in our county jails,” he said. “But the reality is, the people who have been participating for the last several months have learned that the problem is much broader.”
He said he believed that with the group gathering together they could use a multi-disciplined approach. By learning the language and lingo of the other agencies, law enforcement, the judicial system, social workers, behavioral health care providers and state and local governments can collaborate to bring positive change for those in need of mental health assistance before they are incarcerated.
“We each have our own frustrations,” he said. “So far, from what I’ve seen from us all coming together … is not only an appreciation, but a better understanding of the frustrations … of our systems we have when dealing with this issue.”
Leading the workshop are Connie Milligan and Travis Parker with Policy Research Associates Inc., the parent company of SAMHSA’S GAINS.
Parker said that in the 10 years Sequential Intercept Mapping has been used they have helped between 150 to 200 communities.
“One of the best things that comes out of that day and a half together is … having the chance to meet people,” he added. “Sometimes that’s more difficult in smaller communities, to meet people you don’t know. They may be serving some of the same folks you are serving, but just at a different point in the system.”
Parker added the focus of the workshop addresses three points: mental health, substance abuse and trauma.
“That’s the population we are focused on today,” he noted. “Obviously they are involved in the criminal justice system. Trauma may be in the past, but it’s ever present. It doesn’t go away.”
Parker added that they “believe recovery is possible.” He wanted to emphasize the goals were the promotion of support and recovery, provision of safety and quality of life for all, and keeping the person out of jail and into a treatment program.
He told the members of the Stepping Up Initiative the workshop would be productive in many ways.
“You have the opportunity that’s not being afforded to to many communities around the country in the Stepping Up Initiative,” he added. “That is, you’re going to have the chance to walk away by the end of the day (Wednesday) with a strategic plan in place that your community can take to the (national) summit next month in Washington D.C.”
Both Parker and Milligan said they were there to promote collaboration between agencies.
“We are here for a common cause and a common effort,” Parker said.
Parker also told the group that it’s important to answer the question, while assisting those with mental health issues, “divert to what?” If the person who was being diverted from jail has no alternative for food, shelter, medication and clothing, the diversion is actually a moot point.
“What’s here in this intercept that’s working and what’s missing?” he asked. “What we’re going to ask of you today is to be very blunt, about not only what you are doing well, but where you’re coming up short.”
Milligan emphasized the importance of finding gaps in the system.
“(It is) examining a system that is typically fragmented and siloed (or isolated) and figuring out what pieces need to be put into place,” she noted. “Where are your gaps?”
She added that the Sequential Intercept Model will illustrate how everyone can come to know the other agency’s “language, policies and procedures” therefore expediting the process of helping intercept those with mental health issues.
“This is a way of taking down the walls,” Milligan said.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.