By Denise G. Callahan
Criminal justice professionals and mental health and addiction agencies who have been working to help rather than incarcerate those with mental illness and addiction issues will be honored today in Butler County.
The first-time ceremony will recognize a number of people through Butler County’s Stepping Up Initiative, a collaborative effort to keep non-violent offenders out of the criminal justice system by identifying appropriate intervention programs.
Rhonda Benson, executive director of the Butler County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said each honoree epitomizes the purpose of the Stepping Up Initiative, which is to provide services and help for the mentally ill rather than having them repeatedly jailed.
“Who is it that works well with these folks and goes the extra mile to get them extra treatment,” Benson said. “Does whatever it is to try get them from having to be in jail all the time.”
Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Noah Powers presides over the Substance Abuse and Mental Illness (SAMI) court. Getting people help and not just putting them in jail is the key, he said.
“We cannot incarcerate our way out of problems relating to substance abuse and mental illness. Just putting someone in jail does not make the problem better. That individual needs help or that person will be back in jail. Recovery is a lifelong process,” Powers said.