Nationally and locally, county jails house more people with mental illness or co-occurring substance dependence than any residential treatment facility in the community.  Many of the offenses for which these citizens are arrested are misdemeanors that are a result of untreated manifestations of their illness.  It is the intent of this initiative to identify these individuals prior to criminal justice system involvement or once in jail, and then provide the necessary screening, assessment, engagement, treatment, and supportive services to keep them from returning to jail, while supporting them to reach their optimal state of well-being.

Retired Chief Deputy Tim Britt, a leader in this initiative, told the story of a county citizen representative of this population, who was, as Britt described, “serving a life sentence 30 days at a time.”  This individual, like many presently in the county jail, cycled through periods of being untreated for their conditions. This would result in behaviors that would require arrest due to lack of treatment alternatives.  It is individuals such as this citizen that the Stepping Up Initiative is working to reach.

High Rates of People with Serious Mental Illness in Jail

  • About 16% of people in US jails have a serious mental illness.
  • Women in jail have double the rate of serious mental illness as men.
  • Nationally, every year, about 800,000 people with severe mental illness are incarcerated in our jails.
  • Each year, about 25,000 people with severe mental illness end up in North Carolina’s jails.

(Extrapolated from U.S. census figures)