Kansas program seeks to reduce number of incarcerated individuals with mental health, substance abuse concerns


The state of Kansas on Tuesday announced the opening of the “Stepping Up” Technical Assistance (TA) Center that is intended to help counties reduce the number of people in jails with a mental illness.

“We are proud Kansas is the second state to join the national ‘Stepping Up’ program,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement. “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.”

The center will offer virtual and in-person assistance to counties to support policies and programs that improve outcomes for people with mental illnesses and substance addictions in jails, a news release from the governor’s office said.

Under the program, counties will set targets to reduce the number of prisoners with mental health and substance abuse issues.

“’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,” Pam Weigand, director of Criminal Justice Services and chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in Douglas County, said. “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.”

According to the news release, the center also will help with:

  • 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 in a statement. “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.

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