Stepping Up is a good start

Published 5:27 pm Friday, June 28, 2019

Mental illness is a serious problem that touches millions of people throughout the world on a daily basis. Many of us know the effects of mental illnesses, whether it’s something we’re personally suffering or caring for a loved one who is fighting their own fight.

There’s no question the state has some things to figure out about how to tackle mental health issues, and it’s also not a secret that access to mental health treatment in Alabama has been diminishing.

Those problems can be compounded when limited access to treatment results in a person not receiving adequate medication. At that point, a person may not be in control of their actions, resulting in criminal activity.

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However, we were delighted to see that the Chambers County Commission is taking steps to examine the issue facing inmates with mental illnesses. The program is called the “Stepping Up Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail,” or simply “Stepping Up.”

Commissioner Debra Riley is taking the lead and organizing a team of leaders in Chambers County to look into mental illness in jails and how to better combat any issues. Based on a resolution read by the county commission a couple weeks ago, adults with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of recidivism than people without these disorders.

Part of the program will involve asking the court system to take a look at everybody when they are first booked into the Chambers County Jail. Each person will be given an assessment. Teaming with East Alabama Mental Health, the assessments test if those individuals should receive mental health services.

Sheriff Sid Lockhart is in favor of the program, saying that the sheriff’s office usually has to lock up those offenders. The sheriff said inmates are sent to East Alabama Mental Health to determine their needs, but it doesn’t always happen right away, and it can take a few days to see a doctor.

That is a scary proposition. Lockhart said that can be the difference between a person being charged with a non-violent offense like theft to being extremely violent and hurting someone inside the jail.

“We are not trained to handle those situations like a hospital would be,” he said. “We are just not equipped to handle it the best way it needs to be handled.”

We support this initiative and hope it can lead to real answers for people who are hurting and need medication to function properly. It is a sad situation when anybody goes to jail but just because a person is charged with a crime doesn’t mean they are no longer a person. They still deserve the same amount of help as any other person.

Also, adults with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of recidivism than people without these disorders, according to the Stepping Up resolution.

This program will examine the problem through a cost-free grant to Chambers County taxpayers, which will be managed by East Alabama Mental Health.

There has to be something we can do as a county, state and country to help those suffering from mental illness, and this seems like a good start.