Program aims to reduce recidivism in county jail for those struggling with mental health

Decatur
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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. - 2019 was the first year the Morgan County Jail became a Stepping UP Initiative site. The program aims to reduce jail return rates for people with mental health issues.

It costs roughly $35 a day to house an inmate in the jail. The Morgan County Sheriff's Office said some inmates don't necessarily deserve jail time they need mental health resources. That's where the Stepping UP Initiative comes in.

"The sole purpose is to help people dealing with mental issues, not come back to jail," said Mike Swafford, spokesperson for the sheriff's office.

The jail is just one of six Alabama facilities with the program.

"We were able to see roughly 95 people go through the program in its first year," Swafford explained. "Of that 95 people, only 6 percent have returned to the jail once they got out."

A counselor works to help referred inmates establish connections and find outside resources before they are released.

The Morgan County Sheriff's Office said over a million dollars is allotted to inmate medical care each year.

"But there's nothing set aside specifically for mental health needs although we do treat that, although we do have some in house options," Swafford explained. "The true need is for people when they're not in here to get help and that`s where this comes in."

At the end of the day, the goal is to get people the help they actually need. The sheriff's office said jail is not the place for a person going through a mental crisis. They stand in the gap, giving many people hope.

In 2019, the program was grant-funded, now it needs your help to continue into the future.

If you'd like to contribute to the cause, the program will host a fundraiser on February 21 at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. You can get tickets at mhcnca.org, donations are also accepted on the website.

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