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The Stepping Up Initiative in Buncombe County

Wednesday, May 16, is the National Association of Counties (NACo) Stepping Up Day of Action! Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.

The Stepping Up Initiative in Buncombe County

On August 4, 2015, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution endorsing the NACo Stepping Up Initiative. The Day of Action is an opportunity for our community to learn about the county’s efforts to connect people to treatment and services instead of jails.

Justice Resource Support is one of Buncombe County’s strategic priorities. The current Board of Commissioners is committed to an effort to coordinate a justice system that is efficient, equitable, and that actively protects our community’s public safety while holistically addressing the needs of those in the justice system.

Several departments within Buncombe County collaborate on the Justice Resource Advisory Council and in 2017, Buncombe County Commissioners funded and created the Justice Resource Center (JRC). The JRC is a multi-agency model serving people in the criminal justice system with diversion options and connecting them to community services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, transportation, career advice, public assistance, education, and legal services. The goal is to provide a comprehensive model where individuals receive a foundation that will lead them to a productive, self-sufficient, and healthy life. The JRC is guided by the Justice Resource Advisory Council in using best practices and evidence based national models to coordinate their efforts.

Using Data to Drive Change

Effective use of data can help counties to understand who is in their jail and trends in jail population, identify potential policy or practice changes, and track progress with their efforts to address their needs. According to Buncombe County 2015 baseline data, inmates with serious mental illnesses:

  • Spend three times as many days in jail as the overall jail population.
  • Represent 2 percent of releases since January 2015 but have utilized over 10 percent of jail resources.
  • 4 out of 11 of the most frequent jail users have a serious mental illness. All of those are, or have been, in need of housing or formerly homeless.
  • 75 percent of serious mental health bookings are for low-level felonies and misdemeanors.

The Stepping Up Initiative asks communities to come together to develop an action plan that can be used to achieve measurable impact in their local criminal justice system. Buncombe County has stepped up to prioritize policy, practice, and funding improvements.

Buncombe County invests in services provided through a variety of programs to support and enhance core, mandated services. These community based behavioral health and criminal justice collaboration efforts are starting to see results. You can view the FY2017 Behavioral Health and Justice Support annual report on the Justice Resource Advisory Council website.

Committing to action is the first step in addressing and reducing the numbers of those with mental illness in our jail. Buncombe County is Stepping Up! Find out more on the initiative at

For more information regarding Buncombe County and Justice Resource Advisory Council initiatives related to the criminal justice system, please feel free to contact Tiffany Iheanacho at

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