Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

C-J Extra: Cuts in Community Mental Health Services Costly for Shawnee Co. Jail

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

C-J Extra: Cuts in Community Mental Health Services Costly for Shawnee Co. Jail

Article excerpt

Topeka exceeds the national average when it comes to the number of people with mental illnesses who are incarcerated.

Nationally, on average, 16 percent of individuals with mental illnesses are behind bars. Nearly 25 percent of the adult jail space at the Shawnee County Department of Corrections is occupied by people with a mental illness diagnosis.

Brian Cole, director of the Shawnee County DOC, said inmates with psychological issues often are incarcerated because of a lack of community services.

With National Mental Illness Week being observed this week, Cole and Rick Cagan, director of the Topeka branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, discuss the issues surrounding the incarceration of those with such challenges.

Q: How big of a problem is this for people with mental illness and the community overall?

Cagan: Let's put it this way: $30 million have been cut from community services in recent years, which has forced the jail to become the biggest health institution in Shawnee County for treating mental illness.

Now, if they have to be jailed anywhere, I would choose the Shawnee County Department of Corrections.

They are sympathetic to the issue and have a close working relationship with Valeo Behavioral Health Care.

That said, jail is not the place to be if you have a mental illness. For one, the lack of continuity of care. It's very destabilizing to be treated by different venues since there's often a change in medications or treatments.

Q: How difficult is it for the correctional system?

Cole: It's a problem in a number of ways. First, we are a correctional facility, not a psychiatric facility. Many of these individuals booked into jail may not even deserve to be here.

Now, a person with a mental illness who commits a crime should be in a secure, locked environment. Often, though, they may just be sleeping on a park bench and land in jail when an officer approaches them to move. Because of their mental illness, they get scared and try to run or confront the officer.

Once they're in the legal system, they tend to stay longer because they don't have the financial resources to get out, and when they are released, they get in trouble more often. …

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