Douglas County Looks to Reduce Number of Mentally Ill in Jails

May 29, 2019, 2:57 p.m. ·

Douglas County Department of Corrections, Omaha, Nebraska (photo by Becca Costello, NET News)

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Douglas County has been working to reduce the number of mentally ill people in their jails over the last few years.

Douglas County, which includes most of the Omaha metro area, has been named an innovator county for the “Stepping Up” initiative. That initiative is a framework for counties all across the country to collect data in order to reduce the number of those suffering from a mental illness in jails.

“We have become the provider of last resort," Mike Meyers, director of the Douglas County Department of Corrections, said. "We are the collection point for the problems that society should have dealt with somewhere else.”

Meyers, along with members of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Omaha Police Department, said 34% of Douglas County jail inmates or an average of 425 per day are mentally ill. They also said jail is a bad place to receive treatment for a mental illness. Vicki Maca, director of criminal justice and behavioral health for Region Six Behavioral Healthcare, said Douglas County has made a good start, but has a long way to go.

“But one of the things we have learned is that our systems, the behavioral health systems, and the criminal justice system, we don’t share information well, or easily, or often,” Maca said.

Along with implementing the “Stepping Up” initiative, Douglas County has made numerous changes for treating the mentally ill, including services for veterans, women, and addicts.