County Commission

County jails across Alabama are seeing rising numbers of mentally ill inmates, and Limestone County is no exception.

A Stepping Up Initiative grant awarded earlier this year to the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama could help reduce those numbers and also provide resources to mentally ill inmates who need housing, jobs or necessary medications.

At Monday's Limestone County Commission meeting, commissioners could vote to make Limestone a Stepping Up county, which would make it part of the national initiative. The goal of the program, which is managed at the county level, is to establish effective partnerships across individuals in law enforcement, local governmental entities, elected officials, mental health and health care providers, courts and any others needed to meet the goal.

The mission of the program is divert people with mental illness from jails and emergency rooms and into treatment programs.

At Tuesday's County Commission work session, Bill Giguere, development officer for the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama, said about 500 counties participate in the program. A Stepping Up program in Morgan County has been successful so far, he said, adding 77 inmates had been assessed and 40 are now in treatment.

In July, the MHCNCA received a $50,000 grant to bring Stepping Up to Limestone County. The agency is the only one in Alabama to receive back-to-back Stepping Up grants, Giguere told commissioners.

He explained the grant would enable the MHCNCA to hire a caseworker who would work inside the Limestone County Jail and with jail staff to assess the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sheriff Mike Blakely signed a cooperative agreement with the MHCNCA earlier this year when the agency applied for the grant.

Giguere told the commission there is office space set aside at the jail for the caseworker when he or she is hired. On Wednesday, Giguere said interviews are ongoing but he hoped the caseworker would start by the end of January or early February.

“I think it's the best thing for the community, and hopefully this is also a cost reduction for the county,” Giguere said.

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