Our View

Providing mental health care for those in jail just makes sense.

A program in Kansas could be a model for providing that care in the Four-State Area. The Crawford County Jail Addiction Treatment Program, a collaboration between the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office and the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, provides those jailed who are dealing with addiction and behavioral health problems a path to recovery at no cost to them.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that in a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help, citing the 2 million people with mental illness who are booked into jails each year. Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition, according to NAMI.

States with the poorest access to mental health care are also states that have the highest rates of adult incarceration, according to Mental Health America. That correlation shouldn’t be surprising. Many who become involved in the criminal justice system have mental health issues across a wide spectrum ranging from substance abuse — according to the National Institutes of Health, 69% of the country’s prison population was addicted to drugs or alcohol before incarceration — to schizophrenia.

Those with mental illness often are arrested on low-level offenses such as disorderly conduct, trespassing or even jaywalking. Once involved in the criminal justice system, most don’t receive treatment, with the result that their conditions worsen, they often stay longer in jail than their counterparts and are at greater risk of victimization, according to NAMI.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health concludes that a substantial portion of the prison population is not receiving treatment for mental health conditions, potentially increasing both recidivism and health care costs after release.

Operating a program to provide mental health care makes sense on many levels as does providing care when those jailed transition back to the community.

On the most basic level, treatment makes financial sense. Treatment costs less than jail or prison. Housing someone in jail costs between $20,000 and $35,000 a year, and according to one Florida study, the cost of mental health treatment is one-sixth the cost to keep someone locked up.

Further, treatment makes sense for the community. Effective mental health care provides the opportunity to reintegrate those jailed into their communities, returning them to their families and to work, allowing them to become responsible, productive members of society.

Finally, providing care is the humanitarian thing to do. Helping people to get treatment in jail and to continue appropriate treatment when they get out of jail should be a priority.

Crawford County Sheriff Danny Smith said this program focuses on helping people maintain access to treatment after being released.

“The thing that I like about this program is that it pays for those resources when you get out,” said Smith.

The program should become a model for counties across our area.