County recognized for mental health screenings in jail

Calaveras is one of seven counties across the country recognized for trying to assist jail inmates with mental health issues.

Calaveras County has been named one of seven Innovator Counties recognized nationally by the Stepping Up initiative for model expertise in data tracking the number of people entering jail with a mental illness.

The other six counties that received the distinction are Miami-Dade County, Fla., Champaign County, Ill., Douglas and Johnson counties, Kan., Franklin County, Ohio, and Pacific County, Wash.

“For a small, rural county, we are really proud of the investment we have made in providing treatment services in the jail and at the Day Reporting Center,” said Calaveras County Chief Probation Officer Samuel Leach on Wednesday. “We have licensed mental health clinicians providing one-on-one therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based relapse prevention, substance abuse, art therapy and more.

“Sheriff (Rick) DiBasilio and Calaveras County Health and Human Services Director Kristen Brinks have taken leadership roles in trying to reduce recidivism for our mentally ill population,” Leach added. “If you look at the treatment offerings in the jail today versus two years ago, they are remarkably improved. The Sheriff’s Office and Behavioral Health deserve credit for partnering to keep working on this very complex and critical issue.”

The Stepping Up initiative was formed in May 2015 by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation as an effort to reduce the prevalence of mentally ill people in jails by mobilizing “local, state and national leaders to achieve a measurable reduction in the number of people in jails who have mental illnesses.”

According to a press release, “more than 430 counties in 43 states, representing 40 percent of the U.S. population, have committed to building local leadership teams, identifying the number of people with mental illnesses entering their jail systems, ensuring that those people are connected with services and developing a comprehensive plan for systems-level change.”

In order to advance its goals, Stepping Up organizers are working to provide counties with the resources and training needed improve mental health screenings and data collection. One of those resources is a three-step program developed by the initiative that includes:

**Establishing a shared definition of serious mental illness;

**Ensuring everyone booked into the jail is screened for mental illnesses using a validated tool, and referring those who screen positive for a clinical assessment by a licensed mental health professional;

**Regularly reporting on this population.

“The Innovator Counties, with populations ranging from 22,000 to 2.6 million, demonstrate that collecting accurate information on people with mental illnesses in jail is both critical and possible,” said NACo President Roy Charles Brooks in the press release. “Stepping Up has made much progress in its first three years. Helping counties build on our accurate data collection and other efforts will move the needle even further.”

Leach says approximately 4 percent of the U.S. population suffers from a serious mental illness. That number triples within the Calaveras County jail population.

“Whether they have a serious mental illness or not, the majority of people in our jail are participating in some type of programming to help them move forward,” said Leach. “And, for those that need continued treatment when they leave, we make the effort to get them in services at Behavioral Health or at the Day Reporting Center. We still have a long way to go. We are tracking what we do, in partnership with Stepping Up, and will continue to build a better system over time.”

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