Johnson County Courts & Mental Health Must Work Cooperatively

by on January 24, 2011

in criminal courts

Seventeen percent of those booked into the Johnston County jail are mentally ill. That according to a recent 19 month study. While most people know an underfunded public mental health system can cause a greater number of inmates with mental health problems, there’s usually little in the way of hard facts and numbers to support that—at least locally.

The study involved a cooperative effort from law enforcement, the DA, corrections, and mental health experts, according to the Kansas City Star. The 19 month study has been “designated a national demonstration” by the U.S. Justice Department.

The report makes nearly 40 recommendations to reduce incarceration of the mentally ill and to provide greater resources. Thos come at a cost, however, and one that’s not in the current budgets. Some, however, will be funded with new federal grants, according to the Star.

Among those recommendations are greater cooperation between the justice system and the health system in the local area. One specific suggestion involves a therapeutic community at the jail, or a specific housing unit for those who require additional mental health and substance abuse counseling.

The study also recommends additional training for police officers and others within the law enforcement community. This is especially important as dealing with someone who has mental health issues requires tact and special training in order to diffuse potentially dangerous situations.

Even dispatchers are included in this recommendation as they are often the first point of contact for someone struggling with their mental health. They can offer the first attempts at controlling a situation before it gets out of hand and before law enforcement arrive on the scene.

We see more of the mentally ill having encounters with police and the courts lately as the state has been forced to cut mental health programming monies, slashing millions across the board over the past few years.

The study has a goal of seeing better treatment for the mentally ill both before they enter the system and while they are incarcerated. With each step like this the justice community and Kansas City community as a whole casts aside a bit of the stigma associated with mental illness and begins to see it as a treatable health issue.

The report found that about 30% of bookings over the last five years had received some mental health services from the county mental health system. This means if you are going before a judge for to face criminal charges in Kansas, there’s a reasonable chance you have too.

Mental illness certainly doesn’t mean you can mount an insanity defense to your crime, that sort of defense can be extremely difficult to litigate. However, it is one possibility.

More likely than that, however, is the chance that your introduction into the legal system could afford you the opportunity to get some help for the mental health issues you struggle with. Whether your defense lawyer can work out something with the prosecution involving mental health treatment or simply relaying your struggles to the court in an effort to gain some understanding, your diagnosis can play a role in your case.

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