According to a Globe-Gazette article from 2016, approximately a third of Iowa’s inmates require mental health care, not incarceration. This is something that Sheriff Tippett and Judy Breja, Community Treatment Coordinator with the Intensive Pretrial Jail Diversion and Mental Health Re-Entry Program, have been noticing for years and why they have teamed up with various community organizations and churches to form the Benton County Rural Access Center.
The center will serve as a resource to those in Benton County who are experiencing both acute and chronic mental illness and emotional distress. The center will offer crisis beds for a stay of up to 24 hours as rural hospital systems continue to struggle financially, “We’re taking the need to free up hospital beds into consideration as well with this project,” said Tippett.
The center is also teaming up with Foundation 2 to implement a co-responder pilot program that will provide a specially-trained law enforcement liaison to assist officers in the field with those experiencing a mental health crisis. The liaison will also provide follow-up services to help connect individuals to needed community resources to help prevent officers from having to return multiple times to the same address.
According to Sheriff Tippett, the number one priority for the center is having peer support.
“An officer can take someone with them on a call to stay with someone until someone from mobile crisis arrives,” he explained. As these situations arise, the center can make appropriate referrals to community providers and other programs in coordination with the jail diversion program.
In addition, Sheriff Tippett believes these programs will help individuals with mental illness navigate the judicial system. “Having a peer support component allows us better opportunity to reach people right away should they have a court date coming up, need transportation, or finding services to help put them in a better place.”
The center not only wants to keep individuals out of jail, but still wants to provide resources to those who do encounter the criminal justice system. For those who do become incarcerated, the center will assess jail inmates for possible mental illness and provide follow-up case management services upon their release from jail.
“Implementing the co-responder model program and the rural access center falls under the umbrella of the Benton County Stepping Up Initiative. The initiative focuses on reducing the number of mentally ill people coming into the jails at a systemic level and identifies gaps and works to find innovative ways to fill those gaps. We believe both of these programs will move us closer to our goal of reducing the number of mentally ill people coming into the jail and the hospital in Benton County,” Breja explained.
While the center and co-responder pilot program are still in the works of getting details fine-tuned, Sheriff Tippett says he’s “excited to be a part of such an historic project.”