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By: Daniel Gross, Spartanburg Herald Journal
Spartanburg County Councilman Michael Brown will visit Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss efforts to improve treatment for inmates with a mental illness. The Council of State Governments has invited Brown to speak on a panel of five leaders from across the U.S. to share ideas on how to reduce the number of people with mental illness in detention centers. That’s also the goal of Stepping Up, an initiative led by the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center that provides resources to local jurisdictions working to address the issue. Spartanburg County adopted Stepping Up in 2016.
Local leaders have said about a quarter of the inmates at the Spartanburg County jail have some sort of mental illness. Efforts to better identify and treat those inmates were underway before County Council adopted Stepping Up, but the resolution formalized a public commitment and provided a road map for achieving the goals. “We’re discussing some of the things we’re doing in individual communities and how we can work together as a coalition,” Brown said. Brown will speak about the progress Spartanburg County has made in bringing more counselors and mental health professionals to the jail to help identify inmates with a mental illness.“With the rate of recidivism, we’re identifying people when they come into the jail system. There’s a high volume obviously coming in with substance abuse issues and a number are self-medicating,” Brown said. “Before, they were falling through the cracks and they were being looked at purely as doing some type of criminal activity without any plausible reason.”The goal is to connect inmates with treatment and services so they can continue to get help after they’re released and reduce the likelihood they’ll return. Brown will also discuss the need for more funding to carry out programs. He said the county’s planned veterans court will be another way to identify and help some people with mental health issues.