Shawnee County Jail Works on its Community’s Mental Health

Shawnee County corrections department administrators are working on a more vigorous community mental health program where they plan on creating a 50-bed unit that will serve inmates suffering from psychosis.

Lack of funding for community mental health services and inadequate space at state hospitals leaves the Shawnee County Jail and other city corrections leaders to deal with inmate populations that are at an increased risk of struggling with mental impairments than in decades past.

“This is a bigger problem than we thought,” Brian Cole, director of the corrections department, said. “The problem is, once they get in the system, it’s tough to get them where they need to be.”

Cole stated that the previous method of segregation and daily pills from the jail pharmacy was not going to cut it. As of now, Shawnee County has a standard medical care program and specialists in mental health, Cole stated, but that does meet their needs.

In addition, Cole also stated the around 25 to 30 percent of those incarcerated at Shawnee County were suffering from mental health complications.

But in recent years, around $30 million has been cut from the state’s budget to aid community mental health services. Individuals who have had felony charges cannot be temporarily transferred to Osawatomie State Hospital and it can take months to secure a bed at Larned State Hospital, the director said.

“I don’t get to say as director, ‘The beds are full at Osawatomie. We don’t have a place.’ I have to find treatment,” Cole said. “Jails are the state’s psychiatric centers.”

Shawnee County corrections officials are getting ready to request that the Shawnee County Commission for permission to adopt in 2017 a program to help recognize inmates with mental-health challenges, strengthen devotion to prescribed medication schedules and engage those juveniles and adults in community or individual mental health counseling and therapy.

“Inmates, whether charged with misdemeanors or felonies, would be able to start a plan of care that attempts to address mental health obstacles,” Cole said. “About 80 percent of inmates are on pre-trial hold, meaning they have yet to be adjudicated.”

The facility current resources and staff would be reallocated for the project, and is expected to cost about $1.3 million dollars annually.

“Overall,” Phelps said, “it’s a more holistic approach. Jails, detention, corrections in America have an adverse impact on people. It’s cumulative.”

“It’s about doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s something we have to do in Shawnee County.”

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