County waiting to hear about ‘Stepping Up’ funds

Published 6:09 pm Thursday, July 11, 2019

LaFAYETTE — Chambers County Commissioner Debra Riley will learn by the end of the month if the county will be able to work with East Alabama Mental Health to examine mental health at the county jail.

Riley said the county should hear from the state by Aug. 1 if Chambers County is on the list to work with East Alabama Mental Health to send a social worker into the jail to examine incoming inmates struggling with mental health.

“The collection of data is the big thing here,” Riley said.

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“Just to show the public what kind of cost is being put on the taxpayers when dealing with mental illnesses through the justice system.”

The program is called the Stepping Up Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails, but is shortened to Stepping Up.

The program asks the court system to take a look at everyone booked into the county jail and ask them assessment questions.

From there, East Alabama Mental Health will send someone to the jail to review the assessments to see if those people should receive additional services. 

Riley said once a person is booked in jail, they lose access to their medication and even if they are released, they must go back through the process of getting prescribed again.

However, through this program, not only will those inmates get examined, they will also get the treatment needed.

Additionally, the social worker hired by East Alabama Mental Health will work a nurse through the county to examine inmates who are currently in jail before this program starts.

The process starts once a person is booked in the county jail. If further examination is needed, the inmate will visit with the social worker.

That social worker will have contacts to doctors who can prescribe medication to help people.

If approved by the state, the program will be funded throughout the first year.

After that, Riley said she will continue to look for more funds to keep the program alive.

“If that money is not available, then I will present a program to the commission helping them to understand why it is important for taxpayers in Chambers County to do this,” she said.

She said collecting this data would be vital to show governmental entitles something needs to be done about mental health problems.

Riley said it’s her understanding that East Alabama Mental Health wants to get this data. If the county is approved by Aug. 1, the hiring process will start with East Alabama Mental Health, so it is unclear when the county would start to collect data.