Alachua County Named an Innovator County by the Stepping Up Initiative

Alachua County has been selected as one of Stepping Up’s growing cohort of Innovator Counties – counties that are successfully using the Stepping Up suggested three-step approach to collect and analyze timely data on the prevalence of people who have mental illnesses in jails. Alachua County will be sharing its experience and expertise and helping other counties across the nation learn to collect accurate and accessible data on the number of people with mental illnesses in their jails.

“We are proud of the support and collaboration with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and Jail,” said Alachua County Court Services JMHCP Program Manager David R Johnson. “Being nationally recognized as one of only 38 Innovator Counties across the country showcases the wide-reaching partnerships’ dedication and focus on improving the quality of life for our citizens living with behavioral health concerns.”

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APA Foundation) partnered in May 2015 to create Stepping Up to rally local, state, and national leaders to achieve a measurable reduction in the number of people in jail who have mental illnesses.

The Innovator County status showcases the County’s and stakeholders’ intent and ability to increase their accurate identification of people in their jails who have Serious Mental Illness; collect and share data on these individuals to better connect them to treatment and services; and use this information to inform local policies and practices. Less than 60 counties in the nation have achieved the distinction of Innovator County, including just one other county in Florida. 

Since joining Stepping Up, Alachua County has taken significant steps toward reducing the number of people in jail who have mental illnesses. The County has completed a two-year evaluation of the crossroads of Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health resulting in a Strategic Plan approved by the Public Safety Coordinating Council.

This plan led to a successful grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which funds one Co-Responder team in partnership with the Gainesville Police Department and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. This recognition comes from Alachua County’s and stakeholders’ collaborative efforts under the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) grant. 

Innovator Counties such as Alachua County are implementing Stepping Up’s recommended three-step approach for gathering data:

  1. Establish a shared definition of Serious Mental Illness for your Stepping Up efforts that is used throughout local criminal justice and behavioral health systems.
  2. Use a validated mental health screening tool on every person booked into the jail and refer people who screen positive for symptoms of Serious Mental Illness to a follow-up clinical assessment by a licensed mental health professional.
  3. Record clinical assessment results and regularly report on this population.

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