Archive for Monday, September 24, 2012

Kansas jails struggle to meet needs of mentally ill

September 24, 2012, 10:57 a.m. Updated September 24, 2012, 2:16 p.m.


— Scarce mental health resources in Kansas are boosting county jail populations with inmates who might be better served in a psychiatric ward than behind bars.

Some counties such as Johnson and Shawnee have created pods at their jails where prisoners suffering from mental illnesses are segregated from the general population.

But in Sedgwick County, the state's second most-populous county, Sheriff Robert Hinshaw has tried and failed for three years to get such a pod built at the county jail.

The Wichita Eagle reported that Hinshaw, who lost his re-election bid in August, said 49 inmates out of the jail's average population of 1,463 would be housed in a mental health pod, if the jail had one, and there are about 225 others who are taking some form of medication for mental disorders.

Of those 49 inmates, 43 are in custody on felony charges, including seven who are charged with murder or attempted murder.

"It's frustrating," Hinshaw said. "I think it's something that we do need in the Sedgwick County Jail. Right or wrong, regardless of how you feel about it, we see more people with mental illnesses being incarcerated, and we need to have the tools to provide the proper level of care."

Jails have become mental health institutions to some degree because the state's mental hospitals have waiting lists, and most counties, including Sedgwick, don't have long-term facilities for people with mental illnesses.

The average length of stay for an inmate is 28 days, but for the 49 inmates Hinshaw would house in a special pod, the average is 165 days. Sedgwick County spends nearly $68 per day to house one person in the jail.

With an average daily population of 650 to 700 inmates, Johnson County estimates about 17 percent of its inmates are mentally ill.

Johnson County's jail has two special units for people with mental illnesses, one for men and one for women. The sheriff's office also has started a "forensic assertive community team" that tries to help people reintegrate back into society after leaving jail.

Tom Erickson, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said the county's special pods helps reduce the time mentally ill inmates spend behind bars because of the attention they receive while there.

"In the end, the more effectively we work with our mental health population while they're in custody and keep them on their medications, the less likely they are to come back. Although we invest some money up front, in the long run it's much more cost-effective," Erickson said.

He said an inmate struggling with mental illness might get back on medications in jail, but not have the resources to stay on them after being released. He said the county works with inmates to get them help the help they need to stay out of jail in the future.

Shawnee County, whose jail is operated by the county Department of Corrections, has three pods for people diagnosed with mental problems.

Richard Kline, director of the department, said one pod is for inmates on suicide watch, one is for inmates "you can't put in a general population" because of mental illness, and the third is available for inmates who may have a combination of mental and medical problems.

"It's a constant balancing act," Kline said. "We're the largest inpatient mental health facility in Shawnee County. We just are."

Shawnee County has been using special pods since 2002, Kline said. It has an average inmate population of about 475, and about 20 percent have serious and persistent mental illnesses.

"The economy is tough all over, so community resource dollars are tightening up," Kline said. "Access to the state hospitals is becoming more and more difficult. So even if someone wants to voluntarily commit themselves to Osawatomie or Larned, they've got a waiting line. If they don't have adequate support systems, well then, something happens and they end up in jail. The lack of state mental health facilities is a ripple effect. It ripples back to the community and then within the community, they end up in the jail."


oldbaldguy 5 years, 8 months ago

this will get worse until the state is sued by an individual or the feds

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

Clipped from:

Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity:

Is an order passed by the court on the defendant whose lawyer has pleaded that at the time of committing the crime, the defendant was not in a position to distinguish between right and wrong and that there was no intention of committing a crime, which implies that the defendant was mentally not stable or insane. The court may ask the attorneys to verify or prove the state of insanity on the basis of which a "not guilty" verdict will be passed. If the defendant is found to be temporary insane, he/she will have to go for psychiatriatric treatment. If he/she is found to be insane, he will have to be treated at a mental hospital.

(I corrected 5 spelling errors, and about 12 grammatical errors. Maybe this wasn't a very good source to cite!)

sleepy33 5 years, 8 months ago

At least Sedgwick Co. has the mental health court system in place, something the rest of the state could sorely use.

kernal 5 years, 8 months ago

oldbaldguy, a group of prisoners in a "supermax" prison in Colorado recently did file a complaint against the BOPwhich the Justice Department will be reviewing. The allegations are of cruelty, torture and abuse against mentally ill patients.

A study done a few years ago, estimated there were 350,000 mentally inmates in the U.S. prison system - that does not include local jails across the country. Who knows how many more that would be. I don't doubt for a minute that the numbers haven't gone up during the last few years.

Many of these prisoners are part of the homeless problem who are arrested then put in the jail and prison system because there is no where else to put them. This is one of two reasons why the prisons in this country are so overcrowded and why we are paying millions of dollars for their care. Care that is so in inept, that it may be in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

I just wish someone with the resources would do a study to see if we really saved money by closing down all the publically owned mental institutions in this country. I don't think we have.

kernal 5 years, 8 months ago

The Atlantic did a series on the Supermax allegations and this problem. Go to and do a word search for supermax.

oldbaldguy 5 years, 8 months ago

A big disservice was done and is being done by closing such facilitites. Look in local nursing homes that is where many mentally ill are.

kernal 5 years, 8 months ago

As I've spent a lot of time in nursing homes (visiting relatives) that are part of retirement communities, I know they have residents with different stages of dementia and some places have special facilities for those residents. But I've never been in a nursing home that wasn't part of an assisted living, or retirement community, so I did not know about this. Are non-elderly patients being placed in nursing homes that also care for the elderly?

openminded 5 years, 8 months ago

KDOC has already been sued about not having met mental ill needs. That's why Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility was built. It was built on a court order from the late 80's and started building in 1991, taking in the first inmate in 1992. We need more of those I guess.

Eddie_Haskell 5 years, 8 months ago

What a joke. The Douglas County Jail can't even care for the physically ill. A woman died there last May of alcohol withdrawal. Given her history of alcoholism and seizures she should have be given benzodiazapines as soon as she got there. I guess that's not a legitimate illness.

Liberty275 5 years, 8 months ago

My Dr insisted I drink NO alcohol while taking a dose of Xanax strong enough that I can board an airplane. Respiratory distress, he kept saying. I don't think it matters which you take first.

Benzos and alcohol can kill you. Is that really what they give drunk epileptics?

somedude20 5 years, 8 months ago

Just wait for the Brownback caused cuts of 10% across the board. Think things are bad now, give it a year or two. Heck, Brownback treats working, tax paying and able-bodied people like garbage, how do you think he will "help" people with mental illnesses?

Now, if you could prove that it is a "legitimate" insanity, maybe they would help but most crazy people are crazy because they want to be!

kawrivercrow 5 years, 8 months ago

Ironically, Busey displays classic closed-head injury behaviour. Yet, as you allude, much of his antics (e.g. on Celebrity Apprentice) appear to be intentional and partly-scripted as a comedic hook to get extra attention.

Clara Westphal 5 years, 8 months ago

This problem has increased since Menengers closed their faciility in Topeka and moved to Texas.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 8 months ago

Menningers never took patients who did not have the ability to pay for their care. The care for the indigent mentally ill, or the underinsured mentally ill has been the real problem. Even in Lawrence LMH has used a smoke screen to hide behind the fact that providing services is not a profit center.

sleepy33 5 years, 8 months ago

LMH is not responsible for treating the uninsured or underinsured mentally ill, except on an emergency basis; Bert Nash is responsible.

Kate Rogge 5 years, 8 months ago

Bert Nash is incompetent, IMHO. The city owns Lawrence Memorial Hospital, and the city should create a mental health ward to which emergency patients (including those arrested because of aberrant behavior suggestive of mental illness) may be admitted and treated. It is disgraceful that we deliberately ignore the mentally ill and refuse to care for them.

StirrrThePot 5 years, 8 months ago

Caring for the mentally ill is not a priority in this state? Well color me shocked.

We'll see more of this with Brownstain's cuts coming. He'll protect the unborn, but screw 'em once they're here--especially if they have special needs or mental illness of any kind.

Kansas--as backward as you think!

Crazy_Larry 5 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps Mr. Brownback's strategy is to set them free and let the police take care of the problem...Re: Kelly Thomas; Camisha Davidson; Brian Clauch; John T. Williams; Milton Hall; Henry Lee Sr.; Kyle Miller; Salvador Rosario; Humberto Delgado Jr.; David Brown Jr.; Michael L. Ferryman; etc., etc., etc.

“The pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer”

Commenting has been disabled for this item.