Program designed to reduce the number of people in jail with mental illness
The Pierce County Council yesterday passed a resolution announcing support for the national “Stepping Up” initiative. The program will be employed to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the Pierce County jail.
The county plans to convene a team that includes the Sheriff, mental health professionals and multiple agencies to develop and execute a strategy that will result in a measurable reduction in the number of people in jail who suffer from mental illness.
The resolution was introduced by Councilmembers Connie Ladenburg and Derek Young. “The initiative will provide the resources we need to help our residents with mental illnesses,” said Ladenburg. “We are fortunate to live in a community that demonstrates its concern for people with mental health issues and recognizes that solutions will come from working together.”
Jails across the nation serve an estimated two million people with serious mental illness each year – almost three-quarters also have substance abuse disorders. Recognizing the need for local involvement, the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Foundation have joined together to create the Stepping Up initiative.
Reducing the cost for housing inmates with mental illnesses and removing the stigma of mental illness are two additional goals of the Stepping Up initiative. Pierce County spends an average of $1.5 million each year to provide mental health services in the county jail.
“While this initiative will undoubtedly save taxpayers money, to me it’s about justice,” stated Councilmember Young. “Mental illness isn’t a crime. It’s time we stopped treating it like one.”
A national summit is scheduled next year in Washington D.C. to advance county-led plans to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail.
Ronald Klein, Pierce County Communications director