The Stepping Up Initiative — supported by NACo, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the Council of State Governments Justice Center — assists county government efforts to reduce the prevalence of individuals with mental health conditions in the criminal legal system. The Stepping Up Initiative was founded to address behavioral health needs within local criminal legal systems and reduce the overincarceration of individuals with behavioral health conditions.
The deinstitutionalization of mental health services since the 1960s pushed local communities to address mental health crises through new or existing institutions and systems. Too often, when counties had no alternative recourse to address mental health, jails became the default institution for triage and care. Consequently, there is a now a higher proportion of individuals with mental health conditions incarcerated in jails, compared to the other social institutions including mental health hospitals. One study found almost half of the people in jail have a recorded history of mental health conditions, and a quarter of the people in jail reported experiences that met the threshold for serious psychological distress in the past 30 days.