A unanimous vote taken by the La Paz County Board of Supervisors early this month will commit them to a national incentive aimed at reducing the number of mentally ill people in county jails.
Stepping Up Initiative
Stepping Up is a national initiative dedicated to reducing the number of people with mental illness in jails. Each year in the United States, there are an estimated 2 million people with mental illness admitted to county jails. Jails now house more mentally ill people than psychiatric hospitals.
This creates a number of problems that Stepping Up is dedicated to fixing. The majority of mentally ill people winding up in jail suffer from drug and alcohol problems, and they are more likely to return to jail upon release than those without these illnesses.
Jails spend two to three times more money on people with mental illnesses, costing taxpayers even more. Although resources are limited and a great amount of change is required to improve the jail system, Stepping Up is the first step to improvement.
The county’s decision makes La Paz the 15th Arizona County to join the Stepping Up initiative and makes Arizona the first state to have all of its counties join.
A board member of David’s Hope, a mental health advocacy organization that leads the Arizona Mental Health Criminal Justice Coalition, Steven Harvey said that this is only the first step. A lot of follow-up work has to be put in by everyone involved. The county’s next steps are to begin working with their mental health system on ways to treat people with mental health illnesses that have committed a small crime. The goal is to get them into a treatment program where they can recover, rather than sticking them in jail where they’ll just get worse.
Mental health care centers are already ready to work with the county’s jails in treating adults with mental illness.