Professor Leads Stepping Up Initiative Study

FourthEstate/Ashley Kwon

Mason professor Faye Taxman awarded $3.5 million by the NIMH for her study in improving mental health services for those in jail


The National Institute of Mental Health awarded $3.5 million to Mason professor and health service criminologist Faye Taxman for a study on the Stepping Up Initiative, a national project designed to reduce the number of individuals with mental illnesses in jail. 

Taxman explained that the purpose of the study is to explore what techniques counties could use to improve their capacity to handle people with mental health issues in the community.

Several other Mason professors are assisting Taxman with the project. 

Alison Evans Cuellar, a professor of health administration and policy in Mason’s College of Health and Human Services; Niloofar Ramezani, an assistant professor of statistics in the Volgenau School of Engineering; and James Witte, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, are contributing their efforts.

According to Taxman, many jurisdictions are interested in reducing the use of the justice system for behavioral and mental health issues. 

“System change is a difficult process and there are a few studies that look at how systems, with participating agencies like jails, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, etc. work together to build lasting change in how their systems work,” Taxman said. 

She continued, “We want to learn about what they are doing, how they are building new service delivery models, who is involved and why the agency is interested in changing practice.”

In the study, Taxman will seek to evaluate the effectiveness of the Stepping Up Initiative when it comes to improving the health and well-being of individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems.

“This study uses the CJ Evidence-Based Interagency Implementation Model and draws on both qualitative and quantitative methods to understand performance monitoring to guide system reform and development,” she said.

The CJ Evidence-Based Interagency Implementation Model is a technique used by researchers when trying to implement change in social institutions. It follows the basic process of identifying the issue, researching solutions and then implementing changes. 

The purpose of CJ Evidence-Based Modeling in this study is to track the positive changes that come when implementing more mental health services for individuals involved in the Stepping Up Initiative, Taxman explained. 

Taxman will survey 455 counties that have implemented the Stepping Up Initiative and 455 counties that have not implemented the initiative, evaluating four different categories: administrators of jails, probation, mental health services and substance abuse treatment services. 

“This study will advance science by contributing to an understanding of systemic decision-making processes in systems with multiple goals under various social political environments and how efforts like these can target and drive policy and practice reforms,” Taxman said.

Both Taxman and Ramezani believe that this study can ultimately increase the capacity of communities in providing mental health services to individuals.

“This should change how communities use jails [and] ensure that the community can deal with people with various mental health issues by expanding services,” Taxman said. “We hope to develop toolkits to help counties think about how to make substantive changes in their communities.”