A new study from the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities confirmed that Johnson County’s Brief Jail Mental Health Screening (BJMHS) and mental health outreach program significantly reduces the number of people with mental illness returning to jail. The initiative is a partnership between Johnson County Mental Health Center (JCMHC) and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. Residents of Johnson County who identify with a serious mental illness (SMI) after taking the BJMHS had a reduction in returning to jail (recidivism) at 60, 180, and 360 days after release from jail compared to those who screened with an SMI who were residents of neighboring counties and did not receive outreach.
“The results of the research confirm what we’ve seen in real life within our community,” said Johnson County Mental Health Center Director Tim DeWeese. “People are getting the care they need and we’re reducing the cost on both the criminal justice and health care systems. This is good for the individuals and the whole community.”
At the time that an individual is booked in the jail after their arrest, they undergo the BJMHS to determine if they are in need of further mental health assessment or treatment. JCMHC’s team within the jail provides mental health support while an individual is incarcerated. Upon release, case managers from JCMHC reach out to those who score on the BJMHS as greatest need for ongoing support within 72 hours after release in order to provide support and information about mental health services. Of those eligible for outreach, more than one quarter of them have been connected to mental health services.
“This program could become a model across the region or even the nation,” said Johnson County Sheriff Cal Hayden. “This is an example of the good that can happen for a community when government agencies work together and share information.”
The BJMHS and outreach program are two significant features of Johnson County’s commitment to the Stepping Up Initiative, a national commitment to reducing the number of people with mental illness in jails. Johnson County was one of the first four counties in the nation to commit to the goals outlined in the initiative when it first launched in 2015. In 2018, Johnson County was one of seven counties in the nation to be named a Stepping Up Innovator County. This designation was given to counties considered leaders in the initiative that are committed to helping provide training and information for other counties. Douglas County, Kansas also received this designation.