Johnson County creating mental health court as jail alternative

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Johnson County is creating a new mental health court program that will serve as an alternative to jail for people with severe mental illness.

Driving the news: The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday voted to accept a federal grant for the development of the new program. The $309,766 grant came from the U.S. Department of Justice.

What it’s for: The mental health program will serve as an alternative to incarceration for people with mental illnesses.

  • Through the program, people with mental illnesses will be able to seek out mental health services from the Johnson County Mental Health Center instead of serving jail time.
  • The grant will fund the early stages of the program’s planning phase —which includes staff training and education, research, program assessment development and paying staff salaries associated with the program.

Bigger picture: Tanner Fortney, director of operations for the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said mental health court will operate in a similar manner to the Johnson County Mental Health Center’s diversion program.

  • The diversion program allows people living with serious mental illness who have been charged with a crime in the county to access treatment instead of facing further prosecution. Meanwhile, mental health court is for people who have been convicted.
  • Fortney said the diversion program saw a 67% success rate in program completion from 2019 to 2021.
  • Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year, 82% of people in the diversion program successfully completed it, Fortney added.

Looking forward: Following the board’s approval last week, the program will undergo its planning phase over the next year.

  • This means a committee led by mental health center staff and a Johnson County District Court judge will work on designing the court structure.
  • Implementation of the program will begin after a year, and county staff estimate the program will serve up to 50 people in its first two years.

Key quote: “This program will improve mental health services and provide diversion as early as possible,” said Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center. “Having a mental health court in Johnson County will build on our efforts to divert people who have been diagnosed with mental health and/or substance use disorders away from the criminal justice system and reduce their incarceration rates.”

About the author

Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Hi! I’m Lucie Krisman, and I cover local business for the Johnson County Post.

I’m a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but have been living in Kansas since I moved here to attend KU, where I earned my degree in journalism. Prior to joining the Post, I did work for The Pitch, the Eudora Times, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and KTUL in Tulsa.