Officials look at ways to keep mentally ill out of jail

The Pettis County Mental Health Coalition and Pettis County Commissioners met Tuesday to adopt the Stepping Up Initiative. Pictured in the back row, from left, are: Capt. Sam Hargrave, Pettis County Jail Administrator; Hannah Meyer, Burrell Behavioral Health; Jessica Cox, Community Mental Health Liaison; Phillip Sawyer, Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney; Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond; Heidi Parks and Max Mitchell, State Public Defender’s office; JoAnn Martin, Pettis County Health Center nurse; Sylvan Ward, Pathways Behavioral Heath Care. In the front row are: Jim Marcum, Western District Commissioner; David Dick, Presiding Commissioner; and Brent Hampy, Eastern District Commissioner.

As funds for mental health treatment dwindle, the Pettis County Mental Health Coalition met with the Pettis County Commission Tuesday to formally adopt the Stepping Up Initiative, a nationwide program designed to help reduce the number of people with mental illness in the nation’s jails. The Pettis County Commission also passed a resolution calling to action the group in its efforts.

“We’ve been seeing ever increasing numbers of mentally ill people in our jail,” said Pettis County Sheriff and coalition member Kevin Bond. “These people don’t need to be in jail and we want to work to create inroads to keep them out of the court system and get the treatment they need.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 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, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties, the American Psychiatric Foundation and numerous law enforcement associations, mental health organizations, and substance abuse organizations.

The initiative challenges counties and local communities to work together to find solutions that work for the local community. The campaign supports local leaders by providing examples of effective reforms and connecting them with other communities that are successfully reducing the number of people with mental illness in jails.

The call to action by the commission aims to:

• Commit to sharing lessons learned with other counties in the state and across the county;

• To support the national Stepping Up initiative;

• Encourage all Pettis County officials, employees and residents to participate in the Stepping Up program.

Bond said the group intends to utilize the comprehensive resources available through Stepping Up to:

• Convene or draw on a diverse team of leaders and decision makers from multiple agencies committed to safely reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails;

• Collect and review prevalence numbers and assess individuals’ needs to identify adults entering jails with mental illnesses and their recidivism risk, and use that baseline information to guide the decision-making;

• Examine treatment and service capacity to determine which programs and services are available in Pettis County for people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders;

• Identify state and local policy and funding barriers to minimizing contact with the justice system by providing treatment and support system in the community.

The coalition and county officials will next meet to discuss how to implement the Stepping up initiative July 2.

Sedalia Democrat
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