Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond announced Thursday to 17 members of the local Stepping Up Initiative that the county was awarded a grant to help with mental health issues locally.
Bond, who wrote for the grant, added that SAMHSA’s GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation said there were 75 applications for the grant and only five were given nationally. Bond spoke to the group from the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office conference room, telling them that the SAMHSA’s GAINS Center is supplying a workshop this year sometime between the months of March and August for those participating in the Initiative.
The program will send five representatives from the Center for a day-and-a-half Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM) workshop. It will assist 40 local individuals in a multi-disciplinarian approach to diverting those in need of mental health care from being stalemated in the jail system without treatment options.
Bond said there are several different intercept points where people with mental illness can be diverted out of the criminal justice system.
“Whether it’s keeping them out of the system in the first place or reducing them from being in the system for long-term or coming back into the system time after time after time,” he noted.
Bond added that the workshop will focus on “intercepting” those with mental issues at or before an arrest is made.
He said there’s often a time before law enforcement gets involved where the hospital, the emergency room or a psychologist could make “inroads” to getting the person treatment. Once law enforcement becomes involved they also have the opportunity to divert the situation so it doesn’t create an arrest.
There will always be those people law enforcement will have to arrest, he added, but the next intercept point is “can we we get them diverted out to where they get booked and released from jail?”
“Some places actually have a unit within the jail or in another facility that they can take people that have been arrested,” Bond said. “They can go into a diversion unit that has counseling or they can be interviewed to find out exactly what the problem is with them and how to deal with that.”
If that approach doesn’t work the next step is when they appear in court.
“The judge could divert them or could do a bond diversion or they could something other than put them in jail,” he said.
Often those with mental issues and substance abuse-induced mental issues are arrested because they are “acting out.”
“We take you to jail and you sit in a concrete box,” Bond said. “We come get you, pull you out, and put you in handcuffs, make you walk across the street, and you walk in front of a judge. It’s bad enough on somebody who’s never experienced anything like this, but think about it if you have a psychosis.
“What we see is people who are acting out in front of the judge,” he added. “What happens is when that occurs the system stops. Instead of speeding up and getting these people help the judge says ‘I can’t do anything with them … take them back to jail and we’ll try again next week.’”
Bond is hoping to bridge the gap in mental health by bringing multiple agencies together through the Stepping Up Initiative and with the SIM workshop.
He said there is a three-point procedure he wants to follow. The first would be through the nationwide Stepping Up Initiative in a local program that began in June 2015. The Initiative works to reduce the number of people with mental illness who are in jail. The Initiative states on its website there are 200 million individuals with mental illnesses incarcerated across the country.
Bond said, since June, they have implemented some procedures in law enforcement and in the court system and individuals from different agencies are now beginning to work together instead of separately on the problem. He’s begun to see a “crossover” with agencies helping each other where before they had “blinders on” due to a difference in disciplines.
He gave an example: When law enforcement arrests someone that person is separated from their family, while at the same time the children’s division of social services works to reunify families. The conflicting interests often clash, but those entities are finding ways to work together.
Julie Slocum, Sedalia Department of Child and Family Services Children’s Division, said she is glad to be part of the Initiative and looks forward to the workshop.
“It helps keep families together,” she said. “To reunify them. I would like to keep the families together. But if not, if they have to be separated for a short time, it makes reunification a lot faster.”
The second point in Bond’s plan is to find a coordinator for the local program and the third is to offer Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) through the state of Missouri to all police officers.
Sedalia Police Department Officer Mark Cherry said he appreciated the CIT training he received and believed it’s made a difference in how he handles and understands someone with mental illness when he arrives on the scene.
Claudia Kays, director of Heartland Recovery Services, said the workshop will help to provide them with knowledge of more services.
“With all of us working together we can provide more resources,” she added.
Ed Bestgen, with the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole, said early identification of mental illness is important.
“It’s key to keep them out of the justice system,” he added. “The earlier you can identify the problem and start dealing with it the more likely you are to keep that person from being part of corrections.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Bond and the Stepping Up Initiative attendees decided to make the second Thursday of the month the group’s official meeting day. They will meet again Feb. 4.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.