By Jon Evans
Brunswick County commissioners approved a plan Monday night to create a Stepping Up Task Force that, according to the proposal, will “develop an action plan that can be used to achieve a measurable impact in our local criminal justice system and reduce the cycling of those with mental health through the criminal justice system.”
According to documents included in the commissioners’ agenda, the Stepping Up Task Force will consist of key community leaders in law enforcement, local government, and private entities with a goal to create conditions that allow for optimal success for those living with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance dependence and who are, or are at risk, of being involved in the criminal justice system.
Commissioners in May approved a resolution supporting the initiative. According to the proposed plan, the task force will:
- Convene a diverse team of leaders and decision makers from multiple agencies
- Collect and review prevalence numbers and assess individuals’ needs to better identify adults entering jails with mental illnesses and their recidivism risk as a baseline to guide decision making
- Examine treatment and service capacity to determine which programs and services are available in Brunswick 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 and providing treatment and supports in the community
- Develop a mission/vision/ purpose for the Stepping Up Task Force
- Develop a plan with measurable outcomes that draws on the needs and prevalence assessment data and examination of available treatment and service capacity, while considering identified barriers
- Implement research-based approaches that advance the plan
- Create a process to track progress using data and information systems and to report on successes
The task force will be comprised of individuals from several areas of the community. The justice system (including the sheriff’s office, local police departments, the district attorney’s office and the court system), the behavioral health and healthcare system (including Novant and Dosher hospitals and Coastal Horizons), the community (support groups such as National Alliance on Mental Illness and Brunswick Opioid Task Force), and county government (including representatives from county commissioners and Department of Health and Human Services).
The first meeting is scheduled to be held in August with David Stanley, the county’s Health and Human Services executive director, proposed to be the chair and coordinator for that meeting.