The Washington County Board of Supervisors showed its support of the Stepping up Initiative, which is aimed at reducing the number of people who have mental illnesses in county jails.

The board approved a resolution during its meeting.

Vicki Maca, director of criminal justice/behavioral health initiatives with Behavioral Healthcare Region 6, said the initiative was started in May 2015 by the National Association of Counties, Council for State Governments and the American Psychological Association Foundation.

“Over the last 20 years, the number of people in jail who are mentally ill has significantly increased,” she said. “People in jail with a mental illness, they don't do well in jail. They often are there four times longer than someone who doesn't have a mental illness.”

Maca said those with mental illness over-compensate while they are in jail, the recidivism rate is much higher and it can be expensive for counties to house those individuals.

This is a two-part initiative, Maca said.

The initiative collects data, including how many people in jail have a mental illness, how long they are in jail and how the county does on connecting them with treatment after they get out of jail.

The second part includes the formation of an action plan with a team that can include the sheriff, jail administrator, county attorney, public defender and workers from behavioral health.

“The focus is really looking at how are these folks doing in jail now and then can we put together a plan that is data driven and a system level plan to reduce that number over time,” she said.

Supervisor Lisa Kramer, District 2-Kennard, said she met with Sheriff Mike Robinson and Capt. Rob Bellamy, jail administrator, to see if it would be beneficial for the sheriff's office and jail.

“The sheriff gave his blessing to go ahead with the resolution to provide them the resources through Region 6 to collect the data and start to get a better handle on what we can do to support these individuals and support the sheriff's office and jail staff,” she said.

Supervisor Steve Kruger, District 6-Arlington, also voiced his support for the initiative, which he first learned about during a conference in December. He said he had heard nothing but positive comments.

“It really is an issue in the state. You might not think the state of Nebraska has this issue, but we do have this issue,” he said. “As soon as they can classify these inmates and take better care of them, the sooner it will help corrections.”

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