Sedgwick County adds new services for those in jail with mental illness

By Celia Hack

The initiatives come a year after the Sedgwick County Commission signed onto a national resolution to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail.

Sedgwick County has taken several steps to make mental health services more accessible for inmates in the county jail.

Last March, the Sedgwick County commission joined a national effort – the Stepping Up initiative – to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail. Sheriff Jeff Easter has estimated that about one-third of people in the approximately-1,500 person jail have mental illness.

Since then, the county jail has put a number of steps in motion. That includes no longer charging people in jail a $5 co-pay for mental health medication.

Col. Jared Schechter, who oversees the jail, said the measure appears to be effective, though it’s still early.

“We’re seeing more medication compliance out of the inmates,” Schechter said. “They’re choosing to take their medications.”

People in jail can also request to have 10 to 14 days of mental health medication called into a pharmacy when they are released.

Next month, the jail will begin screening every person who enters the facility for mental illness, Schechter said. Collecting concrete data on mental illness in county jails is one of the main goals of the Stepping Up initiative.

“This will enable us to get a much more accurate figure of how many persons with mental health issues come into the jail,” Schechter said.

COMCARE, which provides public mental health services, is another partof reducing recidivism among people with mental illness. The agency recently started sending a liaison to work inside the jail.

“The idea of the jail liasion position is they will meet with patients either upon entry or on close to discharge, release from the jail,” said Wenhan “Chris” Cheok, who oversees COMCARE’s Offender Assessment Program.

The liaison is not a licensed mental health professional but can help people in jail connect with COMCARE when they are discharged. Medicaid does not pay for medical care when someone is in jail, which can make it difficult for COMCARE to provide services while people are locked up, said Jennifer Wilson, the director of COMCARE’s Crisis Center.

“We’re going to need to … ensure that when they do get out, they have benefits … or are connected to someone that can help them get benefits,” Wilson said.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW