Stepping Up Innovator Counties Q & A: Calaveras County, California

May 24, 2019

By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff

This Mental Health Month, The Stepping Up initiative reached out to some of its Innovator Counties to find out why they joined the Stepping Up initiative and what they are doing to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses and #StepUp4MentalHealth.

Name: Samuel Leach
Title: Chief Probation Officer
Name of County: Calaveras County, California
County Population: 45,117
When did your county join Stepping Up: March 8, 2016

Why did you join the Stepping Up initiative?

Our local leadership team viewed Stepping Up as an opportunity for us to receive technical assistance for practices we were already working to reform. One of the difficulties of being in a small, rural county is that even when we have the right intentions, we rarely have the staffing and infrastructure to conduct and evaluate research. Stepping Up provided a well-researched yet easy-to-follow blueprint.

Since joining Stepping Up, what changes have you made to achieve your goal of reducing the prevalence of mental illness in county jail?

Initially, the biggest change was implementing the Brief Jail Mental Health Screen at intake in the jail. That created a simple tracking mechanism to develop some baseline data. Having data on a consistent basis now means that we can look at our program referral rates and average length of stay, both of which are incredibly valuable in trying to reduce the prevalence of mental illness in the jail.

Programmatically, the biggest change has been the coordination of services between the correctional team, the nurse, the clinician, the substance addiction counselor, and the case manager. Some of these services didn’t exist in the jail a few years ago. Today, there is a much more focused effort to work as a team in our responses to people with mental illnesses in the jail and the community.

How have you addressed barriers to tracking progress toward this goal?

We have been patient, cooperative, and strategic. We are lucky to have a cooperative leadership team, including the sheriff, Rick DiBasilio. Our sheriff has been a terrific leader in selling his correctional officers on the importance of screenings, data, and treatment within the jail. That’s critical. Once the sheriff and/or jail commander is on board, the barriers seem so much less daunting.

How does your county plan to continue driving change as an Innovator County?

We don’t put any undue pressure on ourselves to pave new roads. I think we have just been diligent about making incremental progress from year to year. We were one of the first small, rural counties in California to have a full-time mental health clinician embedded in our jail. We then added a substance addiction counselor. Now, we are in the process of hiring two behavioral health case managers to work on reentry planning and linkages to opportunities and services within the community. We are also working on services outside of the jail, such as addressing homelessness. Our Health and Human Services director, Kristin Stranger, has been an incredible leader in developing and leading a Homeless Task Force. And less homelessness means more stability for our population that has mental illness.

Finally, with the data tracking and analysis support we have received through Stepping Up, we are better structured to analyze how well our efforts are working. Looking back at 2016, we have come a long way. I hope other counties will stop and think, “If Calaveras can do it, so can we!”

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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