OUR VIEW: Stepping Up positive for Chambers County

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, December 12, 2019

Over the last few months, we’ve written a lot about Chambers County’s Stepping Up Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails program.

It’s a tongue twister, and it’s shortened to Stepping Up.

This week we reported on Jessica Driggers, who was just hired by East Alabama Mental Health as the new caseworker for the Stepping Up program. Driggers’ job will be to examine incoming inmates who struggle with mental health.

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Each inmate will be asked assessment questions that will determine whether or not Driggers needs to take a closer examination at their mental status.

This is a huge need in today’s world, where mental health funding always seems to be the first budget cut made. There are many people in jail — everywhere, not specifically in Chambers County — who have a mental issue and have not receive the medical attention they need.

Several of the individuals arrested with mental health problems don’t have access to the appropriate care once inside the county jail’s walls.

Even more so, if they are incarcerated for a short stay, what ends up happening is that they are released after several days or weeks without medication, and unfortunately, end up back in the same situation. It’s an ongoing cycle for law enforcement.

This program will help that. We also believe Driggers has shown the enthusiasm and willingness to get to work as soon as possible. She wants to help these individuals, and she wants to make sure everybody safe, not only to the general public but to themselves.

“If I can make a difference in any of these people’s lives, that’s really the bottom line for me,” Driggers said. “That’s really what I want to do.”

Driggers will be the link between the inmates at the county jail and the necessary mental health services needed to combat the problems.

Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart has said that mental illness inside the jail’s walls is a big problem, and many times, the sheriff’s office has no remedy but to lock the individual’s up.

He’s said several times in the past his officers are not equipped to successfully deal with the cognitive problems that arise with certain inmates.

Additionally, when an inmate goes days without vital medication, which must be prescribed by East Alabama Mental Health, it can turn a non-violent offender into a violent one quickly.

That’s no good for anybody involved.

Stepping Up is being paid for by $60,000 in state funds, allowing East Alabama Mental Health to send Driggers to the jail.

We think it’s going to be a big positive for Chambers County, and we wish Driggers luck as she gets started in this new role.