Orange County partners participate in national Stepping Up Day of Action

ORANGE COUNTY (May 16, 2018) -- Orange County is working collaboratively to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in pretrial detention. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department (CJRD), in partnership with other judicial, law enforcement and treatment provider stakeholders, are using the national Stepping Up Day of Action on May 16, 2018, to highlight Orange County’s progress toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in the county Detention Center and improving outcomes for the county’s most vulnerable residents.

“Orange County court officials in close collaboration with government and community partners launched North Carolina’s first mental health court in 2000,” said Chief District Court Judge Joseph M. Buckner. "As a community, we decided that it was not just, humane or morally right to prosecute and jail people for being severely and persistently mentally ill. The Stepping Up initiative and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) are welcome enhancements to the ongoing work that we have been carrying out as a community and court system."

“Orange County elected officials and staff are proud of the progress we’ve made to develop innovative solutions to reducing incarceration rates for people with mental illness in our Detention Center,” said Orange County Commissioner and Justice Advisory Council Chair Barry Jacobs. “The partnership between the sheriff and our criminal justice resource director has allowed us to implement key practices and policies that strengthen our pursuit of social justice.”

Sheriff Charles Blackwood worked to create the Jail Mental Health Work Group and serves on the Justice Advisory Council, two senior stakeholder entities that discuss and initiate efforts to address incarceration rates, particularly for individuals with mental health and substance use issues. The partnership with the CJRD has led to the following developments:

  1. three new county mental health positions that work directly in the jail;
  2. new policies and training to identify and track individuals entering the jail with mental health issues, substance use disorders and/or who may be at risk of suicide;
  3. piloting peer support services for inmates;
  4. continued commitment to supporting therapeutic and diversionary courts;
  5. instituting pretrial reforms including risk assessment and enhanced opportunities for pretrial supervision;
  6. creating a harm-reduction program to address the opioid epidemic;
  7. initiating law enforcement-assisted diversion expansion;
  8. and beginning the planning for a diversion facility.

Orange County Commissioner Renee Price has been a strong proponent of the Stepping Up Initiative and has attended summits and webinars sponsored by National Association of Counties (NACo) on the issue.

“Stepping Up is a nationwide initiative led by NACo, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, to assist counties in obtaining and improving the tools and best practices for creating a collaborative, system-wide approach to reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in county detention, and assuring that they get the services and treatment they need,” Price said.

In September 2015, Orange County’s efforts began in earnest when the Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution to join the Stepping Up Initiative. The County recognized the significance of working collaboratively across systems to change the way law enforcement and other county agencies respond to people experiencing mental health crises.

Orange County joins its peers from across the country who are participating in the national Stepping Up Day of Action to share progress and raise awareness of the issues facing individuals with mental illnesses, particularly those who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. The county supports finding solutions that improve public safety, while also promoting positive outcomes for individuals with mental illnesses, their families and their communities.

More Information on the national Stepping Up initiative is available at: www.StepUpTogether.org.