Benton County is working collaboratively with community partners to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail.

Benton County is participating in the national Stepping Up Month of Action to highlight its progress and to raise awareness and improving outcomes for the county's most vulnerable residents.

The county's efforts began when the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to join the Stepping Up Initiative in May of 2018 and Benton County Stepping up Steering Committee was then formed. A total of 12 Benton County officials including the County Attorney's office, Clerk of Court, Department of Corrections, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), mental health advocate and the heads of all four Law enforcement agencies attended the Stepping Up Summit in Des Moines in October of 2018.

Benton County wanted to show its support during this Month of Action by raising awareness and informing the public of the progress made since September 2018. "Because mental illness is so prevalent in our society, I think it is important to do what we can do to reduce the stigma. One of the ways we can do that is to increase awareness of the many resources available in the county and I am so excited about the opening of our newest resource, the Rural Access Center," said Clerk of Court Julie Hessenius.

"We are proud of the progress we have made toward implementing innovative solutions to decrease the number of people with mental illness in our jail," said Sheriff Ron Tippett.  "The partnership between the sheriff department and the Mental Health and Disabilities Services (MHDS) for the East Central Region has allowed us to implement a new Rural Access center in Benton County which is scheduled to open in a couple of weeks." The Access Center is located at 811 D Ave. in Vinton and some of the services available include mental health and substance abuse evaluations for those experiencing a crisis, peer support, Foundation 2 Crisis services and more. 

The Access Center is conveniently located in the same building as many other community resources such as General Assistance, DHS, Veteran Affairs, Food Pantry and Horizons Family Services.

Other projects of the Stepping UP Steering Committee include improving the flow of information between the jail and the judiciary, improved data collection mechanisms, expanded jail diversionary options, drafted a process for pre-commitment screenings to help reduce hospitalizations and they are currently working on improving housing and transportation options.

Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails. Led by the National Association of Counties, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, Stepping Up provides counties with a framework and tools for creating a collaborative, system-wide plan to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the county jail in ways that not only improve public safety but promote positive outcomes for individuals with mental illness, their families and their communities. More than 489 counties across the country have passed a resolution or proclamation to join Stepping Up.

"Benton County is committed to working collaboratively across systems to change the way law enforcement and other county agencies respond to the people experiencing a mental health crisis"' said Sheriff Ron Tippett.

This month Benton County joins its peers from across the country who are participating in the national Stepping Up Month of Action to share progress in the country and raise public awareness of the issues facing individuals with mental illness, particularly those who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. 

More information on the National Stepping up Initiative is available at:

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