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Johnson County using data-focused approach to address mental illness in criminal justice system

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 07:52:33-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Johnson County, Kansas, has a new criminal justice coordinator.

One of Mike Brouwer’s goals in 2022 is to use data to provide better outcomes for people in the criminal justice system - focusing first on people in the system who are battling mental illness.

“We're going to start tracking for people with serious mental illness being booked into jail,” Brouwer explained.

The project begins on Jan. 1, 2022.

Johnson County is unique in that all of its law enforcement, corrections, court and social service agencies can share information in one database, allowing the county to track outcomes and trends.

The county has used the information in the past to adjust the jail’s work-release program and when it decided to have the county’s mental health agency work in the jail instead of an outside contractor.

“The criminal justice system, it can be a cycle,” admitted Brouwer. “How do we get these people who maybe don't need to be in the system, how do we keep them from entering the cycle, and, if they do, how do we get them out in a way that's healthy to them and safe to the community?”

Brouwer believes answering those questions will lead to a system where people battling mental illness get help and support instead of simply going to jail.

He said every law enforcement agency in the county now has access to a co-responder program where a mental health professional is available to respond alongside police to the scene of a mental health crisis.

“The data is going to allow us to be much more proactive in getting people help, which produces better outcomes,” Brouwer pointed out. “It's less of a strain on our emergencies response providers.”

This fall, the Johnson County Mental Health Center received a $900,000 grant to provide mental health treatment for people once they’re released from jail.