Kansas ‘Stepping Up’ to reduce number of inmates with mental illness

(Gray Media)
Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 3:10 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The State of Kansas is ‘Stepping Up’ to reduce the number of people in jails that have a mental illness.

Governor Laura Kelly says Kansas is set to open the Stepping Up Center to reduce the number of Kansas inmates with mental illness. She said the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center came together to open the Kansas Stepping Up Techincal Assistance Center to help counties reduce the number of people with serious mental illness in jails.

“We are proud Kansas is the second state to join the national ‘Stepping Up’ program,” said Governor Laura Kelly. “This initiative will allow us to improve public safety and address unnecessary spending while diverting more individuals to potentially life-saving treatment. We look forward to working with our state and local partners to reduce the number of individuals with a mental illness in jails.”

According to Gov. Kelly, the Kansas Stepping Up TA Center is only the second of its kind in the nation and will offer virtual and in-person technical assistance that was designed specifically for Kansas counties to support policies and programs that improve outcomes for inmates with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in jails. She said reinforced by support from the national Stepping Up initiative, the effort will be informed by local needs and guided by a leadership team of state and local representatives.

Gov. Kelly said the center will give counties baseline data regarding the number of inmates with mental illnesses and substance use disorders. She said counties will also get expert support to set reduction targets, measure progress and achieve results.

According to Gov. Kelly, the Kansas Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center was developed as part of KDADS’ Mental Health in Jails 2020 State Action Plan.

“‘Stepping Up’ has provided our county with the framework to bring stakeholders together to plan and implement improvements for the population with serious mental illness in our jails,” said Pam Weigand, Director of Criminal Justice Services and Chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Douglas County. “We are proud to have reduced this population by 56 percent over the last five years and we continue to set targets to improve our outcomes and serve this group of people who are disproportionately represented in our justice system.”

Gov. Kelly said the Kansas Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center will also provide counties with the following:

  • Connections with sites across the state and country to facilitate peer learning and provide concrete examples of successful strategies and policies;
  • Access to national experts and a central information bank on best practices; and
  • Guidance on high-impact strategies and policies that achieve lasting results.

“Too often, individuals with serious mental illness are more likely to be arrested and remain in jail for long stays than to receive needed treatment that could potentially decelerate the situation,” KDADS Secretary Laura Howard said. “This initiative is designed to provide access to community-based mental health treatment as an alternative to jails being the most commonly used option for many of our most vulnerable citizens, including people who have serious mental illnesses and other behavioral health issues.”

According to the Kansas Governor, a webinar has been scheduled for the launch date on Feb. 3, to introduce the Center and provide an overview of resources that are available to counties. Registration for the webinar is required. Counties interested in getting help from the center should visit the Center’s website or email Gov. Kelly said counties are welcome to join the center on a rolling basis and those signed up will get notifications of all available help.

To register for the webinar, click here.

For more information, click here.

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