Douglas County officials invited to present on jail program at national best-practices academy

Douglas County Jail

Officials with the Douglas County criminal justice system will share at a national conference this summer their successful experience in reducing the number of inmates in the county jail with mental illness.

Three county staff members will present at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2017 Best Practices Academy from June 20 through 22 in Washington, D.C. Robert Bieniecki, coordinator of the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, said he, along with Douglas County Jail re-entry program director Mike Brouwer and a yet-to-be-determined third county official, will share details of the county’s successful Assess, Identify and Divert program at the conference.

The county was one of eight jurisdictions the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency SAMHSA invited to present at the academy, Bieniecki said.

The AID program is a joint initiative of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Created in January 2016 with a two-year, $200,000 Department of Justice grant, the program places two Bert Nash case managers in the county jail to provide screening and assessments for women, those with serious mental illness and veterans, Brouwer said.

Douglas County was the first Kansas county to have an AID program and one of three such programs nationwide at the beginning of 2016, Brouwer said.

The assessments that AID case managers complete determine inmates’ eligibility for the behavioral health court started this year, and they are also used to move inmates with mental illness and substance abuse problems from jail to the appropriate treatment programs, Brouwer said. Those assessments also were tools for later jail programing, including the re-entry program he oversees, he said.

The county has taken the program a step further by training officers to do mental health screenings during the booking process, Brouwer said.

The AID program is only one of a number of initiatives the city of Lawrence and Douglas County have developed to provide care for those with mental illness or substance abuse problems who come in contact with the criminal justice system, Brouwer said. Other initiatives include crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers, the city’s dual response teams that will have a mental health professional respond to calls with a police officer when the program starts later this year, and the jail’s pretrial release program, he said.

“All those programs do link and work with each other,” Brouwer said. “We are all working on the same goal at different points of the criminal justice system.”

Douglas County Commission Chair Mike Gaughan said the SAMHSA invitation reflected well on the county’s criminal justice innovations.

“This has been an initiative we have been working on for several years, and it is exciting to have the opportunity to share what we learned and are doing with other communities,” he said.