In June, Maricopa County participated in the nationwide Stepping Up Initiative, a program that seeks to lower the incarceration rate of people with mental illnesses. While Arizona has made improvements over the last couple years, lawmakers and citizens hope to see a wider acknowledgment of this problem so that more positive change can come about.
During his time in government, County Supervisor Denny Barney has been pushing for better coordination between the county and community behavioral health providers. In 2015, the county’s Department of Correctional Health Services was recognized as the top program of its kind. While that shows progress is being made, Barney argues more needs to be done within the community and justice system to recognize people with mental health concerns and treat them accordingly.
Barney hopes that with increased training, peace officers and the courts can better provide for the needs of this underserved portion of the community. He states:
With significant investment and support to community mental health providers, we would likely see fewer arrests and criminal proceedings, and fewer children of incarcerated parents in the probate system. All of these factors can greatly reduce family and social disruption, and create more employable, productive citizens
The county is moving in the right direction, Barney says, but it will take a more focused effort to eliminate the treatment of mental issues as a crime. With Maricopa in a position to set the example for the rest of the country, he is working to make that effort happen.