By Allison Berger, Program Associate
In September 2013, the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) allotted $2 million to enhance behavioral health services in 24 counties and judicial districts statewide. As part of implementing the state’s justice reinvestment legislation, which Governor Sam Brownback signed into law in May 2013, Kansas has allocated this upfront “reinvestment” to hire 40 experienced service providers in community corrections departments and community-based organizations throughout Kansas to increase access to behavioral health treatment for people on probation. The funding has also greatly expanded the use of mental health evaluations and drug testing for probationers, and increased access to stabilizing medications for individuals on community supervision.
This significant investment in community-based treatment and supervision was achieved under the leadership of KDOC Secretary Ray Roberts. Secretary Roberts has indicated that it is a priority to strengthen existing services for individuals involved in the criminal justice system, despite a FY2014 budget shortfall that substantially cut correctional resources for this population.
“Since 2006, the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) has seen a 126-percent increase in the number of inmates with mental illness entering the adult correctional facilities,” Secretary Roberts explained. “With the additional $2 million dollar investment toward evidence-based community behavioral health services, KDOC is working toward connecting [these] offenders with the treatment services and community-based programming they need.”
Investing in behavioral health treatment for individuals involved in the criminal justice system is intended to help reduce the number of people revoked to prison due to failure to comply with the terms of their supervision. Between 2012 and 2013, Kansas state leaders pursued justice reinvestment—a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease recidivism and increase public safety. Through this process, research revealed that in 2011, more than 60 percent of probationers revoked to prison in Kansas were identified as having one or more behavioral health needs; these revocations cost the state more than $20 million that year.
Research shows that treatment provided in the community has a greater impact on reducing recidivism than treatment provided in prison. In order to improve individuals’ likelihood of success on probation and reduce revocations, KDOC provided funding in September 2013 to hire experienced service providers, including care coordinators, recovery coaches, and program providers, to expand capacity to deliver behavioral treatment services for individuals on community supervision. Since then, considerable progress has been made in training new staff and developing the infrastructure needed to meet the treatment needs of probationers and parolees. Reinvestment dollars are supporting innovative, evidence-based strategies that have been proven to increase success for those at the highest risk of failing on supervision. This approach, said Secretary Roberts “will improve the ability of offenders to safely reenter society while decreasing the number of future victimizations within the state of Kansas.”
As of November 2013, care coordinators have begun serving as liaisons between local correctional departments and treatment providers to better triage clients into services. Additionally, recovery coaches and peer support specialists now provide assistance to clients who are navigating behavioral health care and supervision systems. Program providers have also been increasing the capacity of correctional departments to connect high-risk probationers to critical cognitive-behavioral interventions.
This promising initiative is one of several statewide efforts to leverage and coordinate criminal justice and behavioral health resources for individuals on community supervision. In the coming months, correctional staff and treatment providers will have the opportunity to participate in a series of trainings intended to increase their ability to effectively serve individuals with behavioral health needs who are involved with the criminal justice system.