NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness) presented Winona Criminal Justice Coordinating Council with a Criminal Justice Program of the Year Award at its Annual Conference, held on November 5 in St. Paul. The award recognizes an individual or group in the area of criminal justice that has demonstrated through its action a strong commitment to the decriminalization of mental illnesses.
“The Winona Criminal Justice Coordinating Council deserves this year’s award. They were one of the first counties in Minnesota to participate in the National Stepping Up Initiative whose goal is to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in the jails. There are now 12 counties in Minnesota participating in this initiative,” said NAMI’s executive director Sue Abderholden.
Abderholden said the council brought together all the community partners such as police, lawyers, judges, social workers, jail staff, mental health providers and NAMI members to learn about each other’s systems and to identify gaps and solutions. Other actions included bringing about police training in public safety mental health first aid, getting Sen. Al Franken to come to a forum to educate him about the challenges they face, educating the community about collateral consequences – such as the difficulty in finding a job after being in jail or prison – and learning more about the “ban the box” initiative.
“The council is now looking at how to share information between the systems and how to increase the mental health care provided in the jail. They even won a national grant to develop alternatives. This group is truly working together on the local level to create positive changes. We applaud their work and encourage other communities to follow their lead,” said Abderholden.