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Thanks to mental health partnerships, especially the Stepping Up initiative Washington County joined last year, fewer people with mental health issues are housed in jails.
Elly Gould, the county’s jail alternative coordinator, detailed the program at the May 16 meeting of the noon Kiwanis Club in Washington.
The program she coordinates is both an alternative to jail incarceration and a transition following discharge from jail.
“A lot involves substance abuse,” she said, stressing coordination with mental health programs is important, as is training for law enforcement officers in how to deal with people with mental problems.
As a result, an extensive law enforcement training program, the first ever in the county, is set for Oct. 22-26. The course is geared toward helping officers deal with the range of mental health issues, especially ones not easily recognized.
Gould said that by Oct. 12, all 12 instructors involved in the training event – site to be announced – will have the 80-hour mental health training state certification.
County Supervisor Jack Seward Jr., who serves as the county representative on the Henry County Transition Link (Des Moines, Henry, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa and Washington counties) said at the meeting that “there has been lots of progress” in dealing with “frequent flyers” encountered by law enforcement and mental health professionals.
“We have seen results,” he added, “and as we see them, we learn what works.”
In the process, he noted, costs drop due to the transitional and mental health outpatient therapy compared to having one individual be in the county jail for 500 days.
The Transition Link program is offered to those with behavioral health problems and who are in the county jail. The goal is to “transition” the person out of the criminal justice system and into appropriate mental health services in all six member counties.
Gould stressed that the problem is not a local or Iowa one only, citing the statistic that not long ago there were more people with mental health illness in the Los Angeles County jail services than in any single mental health facility in the entire United States.
The national Stepping Up initiative arose to address that situation since jails nationwide now deal with an estimated 2 million people annually who have serious mental illnesses.
In Washington County, Gould’s program is among services offers through Hillcrest Family Services, frequently dealing with possible suicidal, self-injuring or homicidal behavior, and the Drop-In Center at 114 West Second St., Washington. Officially known as Choices, the facility provides social support for individuals with psychiatric needs and is a peer run center, open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. First Resources Corporation operates the facility.
Gould also held a program that morning in Sigourney as part of the South East Iowa Link (SEIL) Day of Action.