This year I was given a gift – the opportunity to work with David’s Hope, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “reducing incarceration of those with mental disorders and addictions through prevention, intervention and treatment.” In 2015, David’s Hope organized the Arizona Mental Health Criminal Justice Coalition to mobilize a wide range of mental health justice stakeholders committed to promoting and securing treatment for those with mental health issues and addiction by establishing collaboration between Arizona’s mental health and criminal justice systems.
The results of this collaborative effort are powerful. Every month representatives from community health organizations, police departments, municipal governments, department of corrections, legal professionals, and concerned citizens come together – from all over the state – to learn from each other, network, hear presentations from people doing innovative work in the field and create positive alliances for action.
In January, the organization launched the Step Up Arizona Campaign to identify solutions and build action plans to reduce the number of people incarcerated with mental health and substance abuse issues. This campaign is part of a larger National Stepping Up Initiative created by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and others to lead a National initiative to help communities to expand their efforts to reduce the number of adults with mental and co-occurring substance use disorders in jails and prisons.
This initiative engages a diverse group of organizations with expertise on the issues, including those representing mental health practitioners, sheriffs, jail administrators, judges, community corrections professionals, treatment providers, people with mental health issues and their families, mental health and substance use program directors, and other stakeholders.
The Stepping Up Initiative is a National effort to divert people with mental illness from jails and into treatment. The initiative challenges counties to work together to find solutions that work for local communities. The campaign also supports local leaders by providing examples of effective reforms and connecting them with other communities that are successfully reducing incarceration rates for people with mental illness. Arizona is creating a statewide initiative and is enthusiastically up for the challenge.
On June 9-10, 2016 David’s Hope will host a statewide Summit at the Mesa Convention Center which focuses on establishing systems for diverting those with mental illness or co-occurring mental illness and addiction away from the criminal justice system and into community-based treatment and support services. The event will support the effective use of limited resources, create ways to facilitate access to treatment and promote potential alternatives to jail for people diagnosed with mental illnesses. The Honorable Judge Steven Leifman, Miami-Dade County Court Division, and leader at the forefront of a public policy movement in the criminal justice system to reduce the number of people with mental illness in prison, and to develop alternatives that offer treatment and support for recovery. He is a primary architect of the Stepping Up Initiative.
To learn more about the Arizona Mental Health Criminal Justice Coalition or about the June Step Up Arizona Summit, and how you can get involved, please contact David’s Hope Director Mary Lou Brncik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources for this article: David’s Hope (davidshopeaz.org) and the National Stepping Up Initiative (stepuptogether.org)