Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails

Codington County, like many counties around the nation deals with the problem of people with mental illnesses in our jail.  To focus resources and attention on this problem, the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Council of State Governments (CSG) launched the Stepping Up Initiative.  The goals Stepping Up are:

  1. Reduce the number of people booked into jail with behavioral health disorders.
  2. Reduce the length of time people with mental illnesses stay in jail.
  3. Increase connections between people with mental illness and community-based  services and support.
  4. Reduce the number of people returning to jail.

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In June, 2015, Codington County was the first county in South Dakota to adopt a “Stepping Up” resolution.  This resolution outlines the following steps:

  • Convene a a diverse team of leaders and stakeholders. 

Since June 2015, Codington County has been working through this challenging using an informal working group. In the beginning of 2018, the Codington County Commissioners created the Behavioral Health and Justice Working Group (BHJWG) to provide more structure to this effort.

  • Collect and review data on the prevalence of people with mental illnesses in jails and assess their treatment needs.  

The county jail staff screens inmates during the booking process for indications of mental illness. When the screening shows that an inmate may have a mental illness, a contracted mental health professional assesses these inmates to provide a preliminary diagnosis.  Over time, the data collected in this process will provide a clearer picture of the severity of the problem of mental illness in the jail.

  • Examine treatment and service capacity and identify policy and resource barriers

Codington County received a grant of technical assistance to work through the process by which a person with mental illness moves through the criminal justice system.  This assistance helps to identify points in the criminal justice process where improvements might be made to reduce the amount of time people with mental illnesses spend in jails. The technical assistance report is at this link.

  • Develop a plan with measurable outcomes
  • Implement research-based approaches
  • Create a process to track and report on progress

BHJWG Minutes: