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National Stepping Up Day of Action - May 16, 2018

National Stepping Up Day of Action - May 16, 2018

On May 16, 2018, the County of Imperial will participate in the National Stepping Up Day of Action to highlight its progress toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in the county jail and improving outcomes for the county's most vulnerable residents.

Each year, there are an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses admited to jail across the nation. Almost three-quarter of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.

The human toll of this problem, and its costs to taxpayers, is staggering. Jails spend two to three times more money on adults with mental illnesses that require intervention than on those without these needs.

Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Led by the National Association of Counties, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, Steppin Up provides counties with a framework and tools for creating a collaborative, system-wide plan to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in county jail in ways that not only improve public safety but promote positive outcomes for individuals with mental illnesses, their families and the communities.

In response to this issue, the Imperial County Sheriff's Office has created the Lima Recovery Pilot Program focused on helping inmates with mental illness gain tools that will assist them upon release. Ten inmates, carefully screened and diagnosed with various forms of mental illenss currently housed at the Imperial County Jail have been combined into one unit specially modified to provide a calming environment.

Program inmates attend weekly classes together teaching basic skills such as hygiene, positive interaction with fellow inmates, jail officials, and skills to control reactions to emotional and difficult situations. Inmates are also encouraged to journal their thoughts on a daily basis.

Correctional Officer Art Aguilar, who has worked with the program since the inception, says "before (the Program) inmates would just be locked up; however, now, they are working together with other agencies to find better solutions to work with the inmates."

There has been a positive response from the inmates as well. A participant of the program, Michael M., talks about his experience saying the new environment "makes it more comfortable to face issues." There is an overall sense that the program participants identfy better with their new cellmates compared to their prior housing accomodations with the general inmate population.

Another participant of the program, Shawn R., described his feelings of depression while serving his time in a different unit prior to being moved into the Program. He now has more confidence in his future saying the Program "provides a more positive energy making for a better environment to use the tools they are learning."

Aside from the Sheriff's Office, the Imperial County Behavioral Health Services plays an important role in the success of the Program. Carlos Tapia, a Behavioral Health Psychiatric Social Worker, is assigned to the program and interacts with the inmates on a daily basis. His expertise in mental illness provides resources not available prior to the development of the Program.

In a short time span of two months, it is evident that inmates who were once reserved and aggressive, now positively interact with fellow inmates. The long-term goal of the program is to prepare these individuals, who will one day be released from jail, to return as productive members of our community. The Program provides them with the tools to be more aware and connected to resources available that will assist them after incarceration.

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