By Herald-Whig Staff
Marion County is considering becoming part of a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in U.S. jail, who pose no safety risk.
The Stepping Up program was launched in May 2015 and is sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
The organization estimates that 2 million people with serious mental illnesses who do not threaten public safety are imprisoned across the nation each year, and nearly three-quarters of them also have drug and alcohol problems. Moreover, it says inmates with mental illnesses tend to stay in jail longer and are at a higher risk of returning once released than those unaffected by an illness, continually recycling through the overburdened criminal justice system.
The focus of the Stepping Up program is to improve coordination between criminal justice, mental health, substance use treatment and other agencies on the local level to enable those in jail or prison with mental illness to get the treatment or medications they need to lead productive lives.
The concept has merit and is growing nationally.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center reported earlier this year that more than 365 counties–representing 36 percent of the U.S. population–have passed resolutions to join the initiative. Three of those are in Missouri — Boone, Pettis and Audrain counties.
In a presentation last week to the Marion County Commission, Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson pointed out that people with mental illness often end up being incarcerated because many states, including Missouri, have closed mental health facilities for budgetary reasons.