The community will have to work together to reduce recidivism among some of the mentally ill who wind up in jail, a problem law-enforcement officials have sought to address for some time. Fortunately, members from throughout our community are stepping forward together to do just that.

Forsyth County commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to approve grant applications to support the Stepping Up Initiative, part of a national movement that seeks to connect mentally ill inmates with support services and treatment when they’re released. The idea is to reduce repeat offenses, thus saving money and keeping as many members of a vulnerable population as possible out of jail.

If everything falls into place as hoped, counselors will help program participants obtain “individualized re-entry plans addressing their specific needs, like housing, medical care, mental health or substance abuse treatment, educational opportunities and employment,” the Journal’s Arika Herron reported Monday.

The county is seeking nearly $150,000 total from a group of organizations to support the initiative, Ronda Tatum, assistant county manager, told the Journal. This would include a $30,000 grant from the Women’s Fund, a $40,000 community grant from The Winston-Salem Foundation and a $75,000 poor and needy grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

It will also leverage $50,000 in county money through an agreement with Cardinal Innovations. The grants would pay for a full-time coordinator for the project and a part-time support specialist, as well as programming, planning and operating costs for the first two years.

Initially, a pilot project would address the jail’s female inmates, a population of no more than 100 at any given time. If that works well, it could be expanded to male inmates.

It’s an effort that is long overdue. Jails are often ill-prepared to deal with people with mental illnesses — and those people are often ill-prepared for jail. It’s simply not an effective route for addressing their core difficulties.

Right now, a portion of the jail population consists of regular offenders, cycling out of the jail multiple times a month or even a week, Maj. Robert Slater, detention bureau commander, told the Journal. The jail staff is not always equipped to deal with mental illness, he said. “ Sometimes I feel like we’re ill-equipped to deal with it, but we have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt.”

If the initiative has any flaw, it’s that it includes a great many moving parts.

Cooperation will be required from the mental health community, social service providers, law enforcement and the judicial system.

“It takes a community working together to make something like this happen,” Chief District Judge Lisa Menefee, a member of the Stepping Up Initiative steering committee, told the Journal. “It means everybody takes responsibility.”

But that could also be its strength, as the community as a whole gets behind the program and sees positive results..

Make sure you never miss our editorials, letters to the editor and columnists. We’ll deliver the Journal’s Opinion page straight to your inbox.

Load comments