Politics · January 27, 2021

Kansas Governor Kelly: ‘Stepping Up’ to Reduce Mental Illness in Jails

Governor Kelly Announces Kansas to Open ‘Stepping Up’ Center to Reduce Number of People with Mental Illness in Jails

Topeka, KS (STL.News) Governor Laura Kelly, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), and The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) Justice Center announced the opening of the Kansas ‘Stepping Up’ Technical Assistance (TA) Center to help counties reduce the prevalence of people with a serious mental illness in jails.

“We are proud Kansas is the second state to join the national ‘Stepping Up’ program,” said Governor Laura Kelly.  “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 Kansas ‘Stepping Up’ TA Center —only the second of its kind in the nation—will offer virtual and in-person technical assistance tailored specifically to Kansas counties to support policies and programs that improve outcomes for people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in jails.  Reinforced by support from the national ‘Stepping Up’ initiative, this effort will be directly informed by local needs and guided by a leadership team of state and local representatives.

The center will provide Kansas counties with baseline data regarding the number of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in jails.  Counties will also receive expert support to set reduction targets, measure progress, and achieve results.  The Kansas ‘Stepping Up’ Technical Assistance Center was developed as part of KDADS’ Mental Health in Jails 2020 State Action Plan.

“’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,” said Pam Weigand, Director of Criminal Justice Services and Chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Douglas County.  “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.”

The Kansas Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center will also provide counties 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.  “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.”

A webinar is scheduled for the February 3rd launch date to introduce the TA Center and provide an overview of resources available to counties. Registration to participate is open now. Kansas counties interested in receiving assistance from the center should visit the website or reach out to [email protected] to learn more.  Counties are welcome to join the center on a rolling basis and those signed up will receive notifications of all available technical assistance.