Kansas Maintains Mental Health Resources despite Shrinking Budget

By Woodward, Melissa; Harris, Carrie et al. | Corrections Today, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Kansas Maintains Mental Health Resources despite Shrinking Budget


Woodward, Melissa, Harris, Carrie, Bright, Andrea, Corrections Today


Soon after running away from a halfway house in 1996, James broke into a home to commit a burglary. However, his plans went awry when the homeowners returned. James threatened the family with a weapon, tied up everyone--including two 12-year-old boys--and stole the family's car. He then led police on a lengthy high-speed chase that culminated in him crashing the stolen car. James was convicted of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

Three days after being taken into the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections, James received the first of 118 disciplinary reports that he would log during the next nine years. He would go back and forth from segregation for violations that included battery, arson, throwing urine on an officer and spreading his feces on his cell's walls.

Like an increasing number of inmates in the Kansas correctional system, James has a Song history of battling mental illness. And like many mentally ill offenders, James did not have a family support system to help him upon his release. When first released on parole in early 2008, he missed appointments with his parole officer, used illegal drugs and failed to abide by his mental health treatment plan. James did have financial support due to an $80,000 inheritance, but he reportedly spent the entire amount--primarily on prostitutes and new cars--and was back in prison for parole violations within two months. A second release to parole ended just as quickly when James threatened a community residential worker for being too slow in taking him to shop for boots. With his supervision revoked again, staff in the facility and reentry and parole departments worked with community agencies to help James get through the barriers that kept sending him back to prison. Reentry staff worked one-on-one with James, who continued to go in and out of segregation for behavior violations. While still incarcerated, James received help with housing, disability applications and treatment options. He obtained a counselor to help him watch how he spent his money, and he learned how to budget and comparison shop.

Upon his third release, James worked closely with the reentry program in Shawnee County, which has the state's second highest rate of offenders with mental illness returning to the community. Though he initially balked at taking his medications and receiving mental health therapy, reentry staff and his parole officer coordinated with community service providers to ensure James understood the importance of following his mental health treatment plan. Special enforcement officers, parole staff who are trained as certified law enforcement officers, also checked on him regularly. At the end of 2009, James had been released to supervision for seven months without any incidents. He was taking his medications, living on his own in housing secured for him by his parole officer and taking GED courses while working at an auto dealership. He remains in close contact with reentry and parole staff.

KDOC's Mental Health Profile

Five years ago, KDOC initiated a risk reduction and reentry program that included strategies to address its mentally ill inmates, who cost more to incarcerate, stay longer in prison and are more likely to recidivate than any other inmate population. Yet as the state pares down its budget, so must the partnering agencies that KDOC has come to rely on to help reintegrate mentally ill offenders like James back into the community. With losses that include 70 percent of its funding for treatment, education and support programs, KDOC is struggling to find ways to sustain programs that have kept offenders from returning to prison.

Every year, Kansas prisons release approximately 5,000 offenders, and 78 percent of them are released to post-release supervision. Consistently, 17 to 18 percent of these offenders need mental health care upon release. For its reentry efforts, the state has garnered national attention in recent years for reducing parole and probation revocations, lowering the number of absconders, and dropping the return rates of offenders with mental illness. …

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