Several members of the Pettis County Mental Health Coalition, in association with the Pettis County Stepping Up Initiative, have been selected to travel to the National Summit in Washington D.C. in April. The summit will focus on how to reduce the number those with mental health issues from being sent into the criminal justice system.
“County leaders and local policymakers representing 50 jurisdictions in 37 states are set to converge on Washington, DC, April 17-19 to address the over-representation of people with mental illnesses in jails across the country,” the Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York, New York, said in a press release Tuesday.
According to the media release 50 teams were chosen to attend the National Stepping Up Summit. The summit will be the a first-of-its-kind and is hosted by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Foundation. It will help “refine plans” to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses placed in incarceration.
Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond wrote and submitted a grant proposal in December 2015 in hopes that five members from Pettis County could attend the summit.
“This is the next phase in the Stepping Up Initiative, where grants were awarded to teams from across the United States that are participating in the Stepping Up Initiative,” Bond said. “All expenses are paid for five team members from Pettis County to go to Washington D.C. April 19th through the 21st.”
Those selected in the grant proposal are Pettis County Presiding Commissioner David Dick, Pettis County Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin, Associate Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit Court Paul Beard, Missouri Division of Probation and Parole Jennifer Fleharty and Sheriff Bond.
“In the documentation they said they were looking to select groups from all different spectrums and projects,” Bond said. “All the way from those that are in the infant stages to the advanced ones, who have maybe been doing this for years.”
He added that he believed the local Stepping Up Initiative program, that began in 2015, to be in the mid-stage of development. The summit will provide an opportunity to expand the members’ knowledge-base on mental health issues.
“That’s going to give us the opportunity to interact with others who have been down the same road that we are currently going down,” Bond noted.
Bond added that the three-point objective for the summit is to explore funding sources, exchange ideas with other cities the size of Sedalia, and to see how those cities implement mental health programs in their community.
“We have identified some hurdles that we have to cross to expand service into some of the areas that are currently not actively participating,” Bond said. “We are hoping to be able to find ways to do that.”
Bond said the “biggest” hurdle for local mental health care is that there isn’t a crisis facility in Pettis County.
“The hospital is about the closest thing to that, but obviously they are going to stabilize and then try to find placement in some other location,” he noted. “At the other end of the spectrum is the jail. The jail is the default location, where if you don’t have any place to take them, that’s where people who are in crisis go. That’s not an answer.”
During the Stepping Up Initiative meeting March 3, Bond said they talked about how the process isn’t to divert criminals out of jail but to help those in need of mental health assistance.
“People who have committed a crime or have a history of criminal activity have to be processed through the criminal justice system,” he said. “It is not a diversionary tactic so they don’t stand accountable for their actions.
“The whole idea here is to be able to make early intervention to people in (mental health) crisis,” he added. “To be able to divert them to the services that they need rather then allowing them to continue down the current path, which will lead to criminal activity or criminality at some point in time.”
Bond said they were “extremely excited” to have been selected to attend the summit. This is the second grant Bond has written specifically for mental health that has been accepted.
The first grant approved, the Sequential Intercept Mapping for Early Diversion Solicitation workshop, will provide instruction to 40 local Stepping Up members. The grant was approved by SAMHSA’s GAINS and will be hosted March 22 and 23 at State Fair Community College Thompson Conference Center.
“We have currently 35 of the 40 slots filled,” Bond said. “We will use all of our 40 spots … we have plenty of people in the wings waiting. We have 63 people who are actively involved with the Stepping Up Initiative. Some of those people, even more than the overflow, didn’t get an initial invitation because of the parameters required.”
Bond added that they have received workshop confirmation from several people including three state representatives and Missouri Department of Mental Health and Human Services Director Dr. Rick Gowdy.
“(Gowdy) will be here for the first day,” Bond said. “Obviously he sees the importance of this project for him to take time from his daily duties to come down. He’s planning on spending the entire day on Tuesday, which is great.
“We have also gotten authorization from the GAINS Center to invite five observers,” he added. “We have looked at other communities across the state that are doing this as well. We have invited them to come observe the process.”
Also attending the workshop is Missouri Coalition for Community Health Care Outreach Coordinator Christine Patterson.
“She oversees the community mental health liaison, which are the regional people across the state,” Bond said. “Anna White, who is our local health care CMHL, based in Columbia, she will have a seat at the table.”
Bond said two people from Lafayette County have also been invited.
“(They) are in the preliminary phase of starting a Stepping Up Initiative,” he noted.
Representatives of the Boone County Stepping Up Initiative will also attend the workshop.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.