Stepping Up Initiative serving the Chambers County Jail

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2021

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In 2019, Jessica Driggers began work within the confines of the Chambers County Jail as part of the Stepping Up Initiative through East Alabama Mental Health. Stepping Up is a national initiative that is designed to reduce the number of mentally ill people that are housed in local jails.

Driggers provides screenings to every inmate that’s willing to be screened to determine if they have a mental health need. If an inmate has a mental health need, Driggers says the case is sent to the program supervisor.

“If they have a need, then their case is staffed with the program supervisor. Then, we get them an intake at the Alsobrook Center, and then if they’re determined to have a severe mental illness, then they’re given a doctor’s appointment and they see the doctor to get put on meds,” Driggers said.

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Driggers said because there is not a full-time therapist onsite, she handles case management while the person is in jail.

“What that involves is really just facilitating doctor’s appointments and making sure they get their meds.” Driggers said. “That is what I do while they’re here.”

Once they are released, Driggers says she provides more intensive services.

“I try to call them and follow-up with them frequently and make sure they’re attending their doctor’s appointments,” she said. “I may go out and do a home visit and say,’can I see your medication,’ that way I can make sure they are taking it. Just kind of follow-up and make sure that they are following through with what they’ve promised me they would do while they were here.”

Currently, Driggers says that when the program first began she screened every inmate in the Chambers County Jail and now the screenings have slowed, but there is still a significant need for the program.

“Currently there are 22 on case management,” she said. “Of that number, only six have been released, so the remainder are still here in the jail receiving services.”

According to jail reports, there are currently 104 inmates being housed in the Chambers County Jail so approximately 16 percent of inmates need mental health services. The mental illnesses range from major depressive disorder to schizophrenia, Driggers said.

Sheriff Sid Lockhart said having Driggers in the jail helps jail staff.

“The main problem throughout the State of Alabama is there are less mental hospitals now and jail is not the place they need to be,” Lockhart said. “I think it helps us out a lot having her [Driggers] involved.”

Since the program began in Chambers County, there have been approximately 152 referrals for Stepping Up services. Thirty-six have been screened for mental health concerns/substance abuse with 23 being confirmed to have severe mental illness. Only one person who received case management services has returned to jail.

Since Oct. 1, Driggers says there have been 64 inmates screened, 10 clinical assessments screened by a therapist and eight diagnosed with mental illness.

Driggers says that East Alabama Mental Health has expanded as much as it can since Lee County has its own similar program.

“Really what we focus on now is sustainability,” she said.

Stepping Up is grant-funded through the Alabama Department of Mental Health and each year the county must reapply for the grant. When asked how important she thought the program was for the jail, Driggers said she thinks it’s imperative.

“The reason being is because of the case management piece, when they do get out, the part of that that I’m responsible for is to try to keep them out,” Driggers said. “So ultimately, that is going to make your community more stable, that’s going to make people less likely to recidivate, that’s going to make the jail numbers go down, which you know, that’s wonderful.”