Forsyth County Launching Initiative to Reduce Number of People Jailed Who Have Mental Illness

January 30, 2017

Winston-Salem Journal

By Joran Howse

A national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails will start accepting participants next month.

The Stepping Up Process to End Recidivism, or SUPER, will open its registration Feb. 6 for its pilot women’s program.

SUPER is a pilot project that focuses on women who are incarcerated in the Forsyth County Detention Center. SUPER will provide screening, discharge and transition planning, and support to women who have mental health or substance use disorders.

Forsyth County adopted the initiative’s resolution in April 2015.

The goals of SUPER are to link participants to identified resources, successfully graduate participants one year post-release, and reduce the likelihood of participants returning to the criminal justice system.

Stepping Up received $82,500 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. The county requested $75,000 but received an additional $7,500.

The grant will be paid over 24 months.

In November, the initiative received a $36,363 grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation in addition to $50,000 approved in the county’s 2017’s budget.

Funds will be used to hire a program manager and a part-time peer support position, according to county documents.

Amber Humble was hired to head the program.

The effort is part of the national Stepping Up Initiative, which aims to raise awareness of factors that contribute to the over-representation of people with mental illnesses in jails, and to develop practices and strategies to reduce the numbers.

The national initiative is led by the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.

Hundreds of counties across the country, including 25 in North Carolina, have passed resolutions to support the initiative.

Locally, Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt and Assistant County Manager Ronda Tatum headed up the initiative.

The program will start by identifying women in jail who would like to participate in the program, Whisenhunt said.

A survey of the jail’s female inmates found that the majority are white, single and unemployed.

Many have chronic mental illness issues, substance abuse problems, have been previously victimized and have past experiences with hospitalization or rehab.

The project will focus on women with co-occurring mental illness and substance-abuse issues.

Whisenhunt said the decision was made to start with the female inmates because the group’s relatively small size — no more than 100 at any one time — makes it more manageable.

According to Stepping Up, an estimated 2 million adults with serious mental illnesses are jailed each year in the United States.

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