Lane Joins 13 Oregon Counties That Have Already Passed Stepping Up Resolutions

On a unanimous vote, Lane County Commissioners, passed a Stepping Up Resolution on May 23, 2017.  The resolution formalized ongoing efforts to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in the Lane County Jail.

“Stepping Up” is a national initiative, aimed at reducing the number of people with mental illness in jails. It is estimated that Oregon jails serve an estimated 25,000 people with serious mental illnesses each year and that the prevalence of people with serious mental illnesses in jails is three to six times higher than for the general population. Once incarcerated, they tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning than individuals without these disorders.

Lane County has been an innovative leader in building collaborative between their local mental health and public safety system partners in recent years.

“We know that a startlingly large portion – as much as 60 percent – of our inmate population is suffering from mental illness,” said Chair Pat Farr. “Creating a safe and healthy county is a priority of the Board and Stepping Up will complement and help us strengthen our current efforts to better serve those with mental illness in our community.”

Lane County joins 365 other counties from across the country in joining the Stepping Up Initiative. The resolution was brought forward at the request of Commissioner Jay Bozievich.

Current mental health-public safety partnership efforts of Lane County include:

  • The addition of three mental health specialists in the jail dedicated to providing case management services and discharge planning to reduce recidivism rates.
  • A Circuit Court Mental Health Court, linking individuals to treatment resources instead of incarceration. This offering joins other alternative court models including Drug Court, Veteran’s Court and a Municipal Mental Health Court.
  • The opening of the Hourglass Community Crisis Center, which offers 24/7 mental health crisis services to the local community and providing links to ongoing mental health and substance abuse treatment needs.
  • The implementation of the Lane County Behavioral Health Jail Intercept program aimed at removing individuals with mental illness from jail and providing ongoing mental health treatment services.
  • Support of the development of the Oaks at 14th housing complex, instituted by Sponsors, to provide 54 units of affordable, long-term permanent housing for individuals with criminal histories, including veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities.
  • The implementation of the LEDS Mental Health Database providing law enforcement with information to assist qualifying individuals in obtaining medical, mental health and social services.

Under the leadership of AOC President and Lincoln County Commissioner Bill Hall, AOC has made the Stepping Up initiative a priority during 2017.  President Hall noted, “People with mental illness rarely belong in our public safety systems. We rarely see good results, and sometimes the outcomes are tragic. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the tools to improve public safety, help people toward recovery, and save money in the process.”

On May 9, AOC hosted a day long Stepping Up Summit to promote continued and expanded local efforts to address the problem. 14 Oregon counties have passed their own Stepping Up Resolutions.  “It would be great to see Oregon became the first state to reach 100 percent participation in this effort,” said Commissioner Hall.

Stepping Up was launched in May 2015, NACo and partners at the CSG Justice Center and APA Foundation launched Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails and announced a Call to Action demonstrating strong county and state leadership and a shared commitment to a multi-step planning process that can achieve concrete results for jails in counties of all sizes. As part of this Call to Action, county elected officials have the opportunity to work with other local leaders (e.g., the sheriff, judges, district attorney, treatment providers, and state and local policymakers), people with mental illnesses and their advocates and other stakeholders to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in their local jail.

Contributed by: Andy Smith | AOC Veterans Policy Manager