By Joyce Wiese and John Speer
Tama County Supervisors Dan Anderson, Kendall Jordan and Larry Vest unanimously passed a resolution on Monday, April 24, entitled Stepping Up Initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Counties routinely provide treatment services to the estimated two million people with serious mental illnesses booked into jails each year.
Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera told The News-Herald on Tuesday the problem is felt at the jail in Toledo.
“Jail is not a place for mental illness, we are not a medical facility. We do the best we can,” he said.
Kucera said finding bed space in hospitals has at times been a real issue with Tama County prisoners.
Kucera speaking by telephone from a conference he was attending in Des Moines. He said “All the sheriff’s attending this meeting are experiencing this problem.”
Information provided to supervisors through the Stepping Up Initiative program said prevalence rates of serious mental illnesses in jails are three to six times higher than for the general population. Almost three-quarters of adults with serious mental illnesses in jails have co-occurring substance use disorders. Adults with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of recidivism than people without these disorders. County jails spend two to three times more on adults with mental illnesses that require interventions compared to those without these treatment needs.
Without the appropriate treatment and services, people with mental illnesses continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for those individuals and their families.
Tama County and all counties in Iowa take pride in their responsibility to protect and enhance the health, welfare, and safety of its residents in efficient and cost effective ways. Tama County actively aligns judicial, public safety, human services, and health systems to work together in leveraging resources to produce better client outcomes and reduce costly and ineffective cycling through the inappropriate venues.
Through “Stepping Up”, the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation encouragement for public, private and nonprofit partners reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.
Tama County is signing on to the Call of Action to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in the Tama County jail and commit to sharing lessons learned with other counties in Iowa and across the country to support a national initiative and encourage all county officials, employees, and residents to participate in “Stepping Up.”
Tama County resolved to utilize the comprehensive resources available through “Stepping Up” to convene or draw on a diverse team of leaders and decision makers from multiple agencies committed to safely reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Collecting and reviewing prevalence numbers and assessing individuals’ needs to better identify adults entering jails with mental illnesses and their recidivism risk, and using that baseline information to guide the decision making at the system, program and case levels.
They will examine treatment and service capacity to determine which programs and services are available in the county for people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders, and identify state and local policy and funding barriers to minimizing contact with the justice system and providing treatment and support in t he community. Developing a plan with measurable outcomes that draw on the jail assessment and prevalence data and the examination of available treatment and service capacity, while considering identified barriers.
Plans are to create a process to track progress using data and information systems and reporting on their successes.