A new Johnson County, Ks., study recommends far more resources and broad coordination of the justice and health systems to help keep the mentally ill out of jail, says the Kansas City Star. The report, released after 19 months of research, addresses a problem common to communities nationwide. It found that 17 percent of those booked into the Johnson County jail were mentally ill, roughly the national average. The county's initiative has been designated a national demonstration project by the U.S. Department of Justice. It was carried out by groups that included county law enforcement, corrections, the district attorney, and mental health experts.
The report makes more than three dozen recommendations and has already resulted in federal grants to fund some initiatives. “We found there is no single solution,” said Karen Wulfkuhle of United Community Services of Johnson County, the group that provided a grant to start the study. Each arrest or contact creates an intercept point that can get help to the mentally ill, the report says. Recommendations include mental health training for police, parole officers, and dispatchers; more sentencing alternatives and court diversion, more treatment, including a therapeutic community at the jail to deal specifically with those dealing with mental illness and substance abuse, and greater efforts to involve family. David Wiebe, director of Johnson County Mental Health, said that treating the mentally ill is better and cheaper than jailing them, but Kansas and other states are cutting funding for mental health. The state cut $1.7 million from his budget in the last two years, he, and a new proposed budget would cut it $1.5 million more.