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Stepping Up for Change: Sussex County Tackles Mental Illness in Community and Jail
Release Date: June 01, 2010

Stepping Up for Change: Sussex County Tackles Mental Illness in Community and Jail

Sussex County Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Prosecutor's Office, Sussex County Jail, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Psychiatric Emergency Services, Police Chief's Association and other local service providers participated in a workshop on April 28 & May 11, 2010, called "Cross-Systems Mapping & Taking Action for Change." This workshop, developed by Policy Research Associates, Inc., in Delmar, New York, was created for the development of integrated strategies to effectively determine and respond to the needs of justice-involved adults with co-occurring mental and substance abuse disorders. Thirty-five individuals were in attendance including consumers, consumer advocates, key agency administrators and staff from the three different systems of mental health, substance abuse and criminal justice. One of the main goals of the workshop was to develop a local action plan in order to divert individuals away from the cycle of justice involvement and link them to appropriate services in the community. The attendees developed an action plan after they identified existing community resources, gaps in services and opportunities for improved service coordination and communication.

During the workshop, the attendees created a map detailing the flow of criminal justice contact from arrest to incarceration, referral and access to services and points for diversion from the justice system across the County. This map was used in the creation of the County's local action plan. Subcommittees were formed to begin working on the top five goals, which all in attendance agreed upon in order to move forward.

In the 2008 Sussex County Human Services Needs Assessment, there was a consistent theme that emerged, and that theme was a need for coordination between mental health and substance abuse treatment. According to Policy Research Associates, Inc., nationally, individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders are an increasing presence within the criminal justice system. Studies have shown that 6.4% of men and 12.2% of women entering U.S. jails have a severe and persistent mental illness, compared to less than 2% of the general population. Of these individuals, 72% have a co-occurring substance use disorder. This problem is especially pronounced in rural communities, where the availability, accessibility and acceptability of behavioral health services prevent many from receiving the help that they need. With more than 650,000 individuals returning to communities each year from U.S. prisons and 7 million individuals returning from jails, effective linkage and access to community services for people with a mental illness or co-occurring disorder is critical to reduce an often repetitious cycle of justice involvement.

For more information on Sussex County's Action Plan, contact Christine Florio at cflorio@sussex.nj.us or (973) 948-6000 ext. 226. Information on the workshop is available at www.prainc.com or training@prainc.com.

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