Letter: Jail, mental illness

To the editor:

The Journal-World has run several articles in the past few years about the problems and expense of housing mentally ill inmates in jails. The most recent (“Douglas County considers jail expansion,” Aug. 4) notes the large proportion of inmates with mental illness and the strain and staff time required to monitor this population. Their health care needs often are not adequately addressed.

Why do so many people with mental illness end up in jail?  Many don’t receive the health care services and medications they need because they don’t have health insurance.

Fortunately, help is available. By expanding KanCare (Medicaid), the state of Kansas can provide health coverage to as many as 100,000 additional people. Most fall into a cruel coverage gap: Their income is too high to qualify for the current KanCare program but too low for assistance to buy private insurance. More than 7,000 Douglas County residents, some suffering from mental illness and other chronic diseases, fall into this gap.

The governor and state legislators, however, are not allowing this expansion. Instead of reaping the economic, employment, and health benefits of expanding coverage here at home, they choose to send Kansans’ federal tax dollars to other states to pay for coverage for their populations.  

Meanwhile, our jails fill with mentally ill inmates who need not be there and our local tax bills increase to cover the cost.