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More than 10 million individuals are arrested and enter the U.S. criminal justice system each year. More than half have mental health disorders and two-thirds have substance use disorders. They are disproportionately low-income; 68% are minorities. The justice system has become the mental health care system of last resort. The three largest mental health care institutions in the country are jails. 

The Stepping Up Initiative is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails through a better connection to mental health services in the community. The Stepping Up Initiative is led by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG), and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF). More than 500 counties have joined the Stepping Up Initiative. These counties are bringing their jail, probation, and community mental health and substance use agencies together to keep people out of jail and in community treatment. 

I.M. Stepping Up (Implementation Mechanisms of Stepping Up) is a research study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH118680). The study will survey 455 Stepping Up Counties and 455 matched control counties to determine whether and how Stepping Up is helping counties reach their goals. The study will help improve Stepping Up efforts to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail and will draw generalizable lessons that can be used for criminal justice and mental health implementation efforts. 

Given that Stepping Up is the largest criminal justice mental health implementation effort to date, this study is an unprecedented opportunity to:

  • evaluate multi-system justice and mental health implementation efforts on a national scale
  • identify effective strategies for bringing evidence-based practices to vulnerable and underserved populations
  • learn how to drive policy and practice changes that will improve mental health and reduce incarceration of individuals with mental illness

Dr. Faye Taxman of George Mason University ( and Dr. Jennifer Johnson of Michigan State University ( lead the I.M. Stepping Up study, with help from Dr. Jill Viglione of the University of Central Florida (

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Our team is committed to respect for people of all races, colors, genders, religions, national origins, sexual orientations, history of criminal involvement, marital status, disability, height, weight, veteran status and age. We support Michigan State University’s goal of increasing diversity, ensuring equity, promoting inclusion, and enhancing outreach and engagement. Our work seeks to address structural racism and sexism, empower the unempowered, and elevate community and patient contributions to solutions.