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Effort to get those with mental illnesses out of jails expands

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

In fiscal year 2021, 17 additional Alabama counties will participate in the Stepping Up Initiative, which aims to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails by developing mental health referral and case-management systems, the Alabama Department of Mental Health said.

According to the Stepping Up website, the program is currently operational in 19 Alabama counties. 

An increase in state funding to ADMH is allowing for the expansion, said department spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert. A list of the additional counties were not available last week. The department will request funding in the FY2022 budget to expand Stepping Up to the remainder of the counties in the state, Valdes-Hubert said. 

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a resolution from Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, encouraging Alabama’s 67 counties to implement the national Stepping Up Initiative. Expanding the program has also been a priority of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

According to the resolution: People in jails are three to six times more likely than the general population to have mental illness; inmates with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and are at a higher risk of recidivism than people without mental health disorders; and jails spend two to three times more money on inmates with mental illnesses who require interventions compared to those without those treatment needs.

Daniels, the House Minority Leader, earlier this year said the program’s impact in Morgan County is what sold him on it.

To execute the program, ADMH contracted in 2018 with The Dannon Project in Birmingham to provide training and other assistance.

The department is about to enter a new two-year, $500,000 contract with The Dannon Project.

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