Stepping Up Initiative


Last week, Birmingham television station ABC 33/40 produced a story featuring the outstanding work being performed by Sam Griggs, LBSW, a CED Mental Health professional assigned to the Cherokee County Detention Center.  The program is part of a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in county jails across the United States.  The effort is part of the Stepping Up Initiative, which also aims to raise awareness of factors that contribute to the over-representation of people with mental illnesses in jails, and to develop practices and strategies to reduce the numbers.  It is led by the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.

Hundreds of counties across the country, including only about ten in Alabama, have passed resolutions to support the initiative. The Cherokee County Commission adopted the initiative’s resolution August 14, 2017.  Locally, District 3 Commissioner Marcie Foster and County Administrator Daniel Steele headed up the initiative.  The collaborative efforts between the service provider CED Mental Health Center and Cherokee County Officials has proven the grant is making services possible for the mentally ill and to those suffering from addiction.

According to Cherokee County Probate Judge Tim Burgess, the mental health position held by Sam Griggs is made possible by a grant awarded to CED Mental Health, which collects the data, manages reports and provides services to those screened for care.  The grant was made possible by the Dannon Project for the Stepping Up Initiative.  Probate Judge/Cherokee Commission Chairman stated that Cherokee County is very fortunate to have been awarded this grant.  Griggs, who began working with the Detention Center in November of last year, has the duty to evaluate for mental illness and substance use disorders every arrestee or potential arrestee.  Griggs then works with CED Mental Health to obtain mental health and/or substance abuse services for inmates that are assessed as needing those services. Judge Burgess expressed his appreciation to Commissioner Foster for her efforts in leading this project.

Commissioner Foster said she chose the Stepping Up Initiative as her passion project because she had observed a lack of services and resources in Cherokee County and felt that this program could greatly increase the quality of life for many residents. Nationally an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses—almost three-quarters of whom also have a co-occurring substance use disorder—are booked into county jails each year. Once arrested those with mental illnesses remain in jail longer and are at a much higher risk for returning than those without a mental illness. The toll of this cycle is staggering, both in the human cost and the cost to taxpayers; jails spend two to three times more on those with mental illness but do not see improvements in the recidivism cycle or in the recovery of the persons with traditional methods.

According to Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver, law enforcement has seen a significant increase of inmates with mental health issues since the closing of several state funded mental hospitals nearly a decade ago.  Shaver said that the goal is to reduce the number of inmates in the county jail because of mental illness by getting them the mental health treatment the individual needs, which should save the county money by reducing the inmate population.


The ABC 33/40 can be viewed at the following link: