Stepping Up to Reduce Justice System Involvement for Individuals with Mental Illness

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Individuals with mental illness in counties across the U.S. often find themselves in situations or conflicts that land them in jail. Fort Bend County, Texas is no different. And like many jurisdictions, Fort Bend Country does not always have the resources and coordination needed to identify, assess and treat these individuals. So, they sit in jail, and often, more than once.

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"Many individuals suffering from mental illness and substance abuse are not getting the treatment they need," said Robin Gearing, professor in the UH Graduate College of Social Work and director of the Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation in Treatment Engagement and Service (MH-RITES Research Center). "These individuals often end up getting booked into jail instead of being referred to and treated in community treatment programs that can help them begin to recover."

According to Gearing, some 30 to 70 percent of incarcerated individuals may be suffering from mental health issues. He is working with Jamison V. Kovach, PMI Houston Endowed Professor in Project Management in the UH College of Technology with a background in industrial engineering and extensive experience helping organizations improve their operational processes, and Juan Barthelemy, assistant professor in the UH Graduate College of Social Work, on a collaborative partnership with Fort Bend Country Behavior Health Services, known as the Stepping Up Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to prevent the prevalence of individuals with mental health or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse problems from subsequent justice system involvement.

As part of a $550K grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded to Fort Bend County, Gearing, Kovach, and Barthelemy, are assisting Fort Bend County reduce the number of individuals with mental illness booked into jail, reduce their average length of stay, reduce recidivism rates and improve overall connection to treatment programs.

"We want to ensure that individuals involved in the justice system in Fort Bend County with mental illness are connected to appropriate treatment programs," said Kovach.

One of the deliverables of the project is integrating the information stored in several different databases across the Fort Bend County justice system to help ensure all entities involved, from law enforcement to care providers and the courts, have the information they need when they need it to make the best decisions for the individual charged with an offense. Gearing, Kovach, and Barthelemy are working with the county to specifically improve the processes by which they collect, measure and share data throughout their justice system and connect those in need to appropriate mental health and/or substance use treatment programs within the community.

"It's amazing to see the effort the Fort Bend County justice system is making for people and their families," said Kovach. "This research and our partners in Fort Bend County remain committed to support and assist individuals with mental illness who become involved in the justice system."

Category: Community Health

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