Stepping Up Initiative


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What is Stepping Up?

Recognizing the critical role local and state officials play in supporting systems change, the National Association of Counties (NACo), the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and The Council of State Governments Justice Center launched the Stepping Up initiative in May 2015.

Stepping Up is a national movement to provide counties with the tools they need to develop cross-systems, data-driven strategies that can lead to measurable reductions in the number of people with mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders in jails.

Oklahoma’s Role

In 2015 Mental Health Association Oklahoma advocated in partnership with Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office to become part of a national movement, The Stepping Up Initiative. Now there are over 480 counties across the nation all working to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail. The Association will continue to advocate for more counties in Oklahoma to join in this effort that has 4 simple measures.

The Challenges

Approximately 2 million times each year, people who have serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the nation. Almost three-quarters of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.

The Cost

The human toll of this problem—and its cost to taxpayers—is staggering. Jails spend two to three times more money on adults with mental illnesses that require intervention than on those without those needs, yet often do not see improvements to public safety or these individuals’ health. Although counties have made tremendous efforts to address this problem, they are often thwarted by significant obstacles, including operating with minimal resources and needing better coordination between criminal justice, mental health, substance use treatment, and other agencies.  

What’s Next?

Without change, large numbers of people with mental illnesses will continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for these individuals and their families, missed opportunities for connections to treatment, inefficient use of funding, and a failure to improve public safety.

The Stepping Up Initiative asks communities to come together to develop an action plan that can be used to achieve measurable impact in local criminal justice systems of all sizes across the country.

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