Wednesday, May 6, 2015

APF Joins in Initiative to Reduce Numbers of Mentally Ill People in Jails

The American Psychiatric Foundation (APF) joined the National Association of Counties and the Council of State Governments Justice Center on Capitol Hill yesterday to launch the Stepping Up Initiative, a national effort to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails across the country.

The initiative calls on county governments to enact strategies to collect data on the status and needs of people with mental illnesses in local jails, determine treatment capacity, and develop plans with measurable outcomes to reduce their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

“We know the impact these changes can have on our counties’ budgets, on our public safety, and most importantly, on individuals with mental illnesses and their families,” said Toni Carter (left), a commissioner of Ramsey County, Minn., during the Hill event. “But this battle won’t be won in individual counties. We need a national movement to change the way we treat people with mental illnesses.”

While some counties have made progress in their efforts to facilitate access to treatment and promote appropriate alternatives to jail, scaling up successful efforts has proven more difficult. As part of its ongoing work in the criminal justice field, APF will convene a national summit meeting on the subject in spring 2016.

A recent report noted that there were now 10 times as many people with mental illness in jails and prisons than in psychiatric hospitals, said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “We must ensure that every one of our patients, every individual who needs and deserves treatment—particularly in the criminal justice system—receives that treatment.”

“We need sweeping change in the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system,” said Denise O’Donnell, J.D., M.S.W., director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the U.S. Department of Justice. “The current system in which our jails provide mental health services is not affordable, nor is it sustainable or right.”

For more in Psychiatric News about the mental health crisis in America’s jails, see “Counties Seek Help to Reduce Numbers of Mentally Ill Inmates.” Also, see the Psychiatric Services in Advance article “Prospective Study of Violence Risk Reduction Among Mental Health Court Participants,” coauthored by APA President-elect RenĂ©e Binder, M.D.

-aml  (Image: Aaron Levin/PN)


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