Keeping the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system. That's the theme Missoula County Commissioner Nicole 'Cola' Rowley will address at the National Association of Counties on July 23 in Ohio.

"They're having a 'stepping up summit', Rowley said. "The 'stepping up' initiative is a nationwide effort to reduce the number of mentally ill individuals that we have in our criminal justice system and specifically that we have incarcerated.."

Cowley related four key measures within the 'stepping up' initiative.

"Reducing the number of people booked, decreasing the length of stay in jail, increasing links to treatment, and decreasing recidivism," Rowley said. "I've been asked to speak on the first key measure on the efforts Missoula County has been doing to reduce the number of mentally ill individuals who have been booked into our jails."

Rowley said there are certain programs that will help to keep that population out of the criminal justice system, if possible.

"What we've done with 'Intercept Zero and Intercept One' , which are intercepts in the community that focus on community resources that can decrease the likelihood that an individual engaging with law enforcement in the first place, so it's kind of upstream prevention of engagement with law enforcement," she said. "Then, it offers law enforcement personnel options other than jail or the emergency room for those in a mental health crisis."

The National Association of Counties annual meeting is July 21 through 24 in Columbus, Ohio.

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