Tuscaloosa County Jail

Story by WVUA 23’s Libbi Farrow.

Tuscaloosa has joined 21 other Alabama counties that have passed resolutions to work with law enforcement, mental health providers, and others to address the growing concern of inmates with mental illness. The initiative is called “Stepping-Up.”

“I’m very excited, I’m glad to see the state taking the initiative,” Sheriff of Tuscaloosa County Ron Abernathy said.

Adults with mental illness tend to stay longer in jail, and upon release, are at a higher risk of coming back than people without these disorders.

“One statistic that I realized recently is that in the county jail 45% will self report some form of mental illness and or substance abuse situation because the whole substance abuse situation also impacts the mental health situation so they become intertwined often and that’s something we all with on a daily basis,” said Rob Robertson, probate judge of Tuscaloosa. “Every situation is different, everybody is different therefore their situations are different, but we must look at both sides of that equation otherwise some of these individuals just end up on that merry go round coming in and out of our jails, in and out of our ERs, and our streets and something has to change.”

The Tuscaloosa County Commission sees this as a part of their responsibility to protect and enhance the health, welfare and safety of its residents in efficient and cost-effective ways. Mental health assessments inside the jail and other research-based approaches will be implemented as well.

“The population in the jail could vary somewhere between 35-40% of the population is somebody in there with a mental illness now and a lot of times the charges were a result of them having a mental illness and those are the things we need to prevent,” Abernathy said. “The jail is not a place to house people with mental illnesses.”

For more information on the stepping-up initiative, visit stepuptogether.org

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