JoCo on the Go Podcast: Reentry Project

On JoCo on the Go, episode #127, hear about a new Johnson County program that is providing early support to incarcerated individuals with mental health concerns, so when they reenter the community they’re doing so with the tools they need to be successful. The Reentry Project offers screening and resources to reduce recidivism among this population. Also, learn about a new dashboard that will track the successes of this and other initiatives involving Johnson County Mental Health Center and its partnerships with the criminal justice system.



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Time Subject
00:27 Introduction
02:17 What is the Reentry Project?
05:28 How does it benefit the community?
11:05 Success stories from the program
11:53 The Stepping-Up dashboard


Theresa Freed 00:00

Johnson County Mental Health Center is teaming up with the correction system to ensure residents get the help they need. On this episode, hear from those involved with the Reentry Project and learn about a new dashboard to track progress with this partnership.

Announcer 00:12

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:27

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Johnson County has been really effective at addressing the needs of those with mental health concerns, especially when it comes to contact with the justice system. It's a leader in the nation with its co-responder program, which involves mental health experts teaming up with law enforcement to respond to calls. Another innovative program in the county is called the Reentry Project here to talk more about that, are Brandy Kenney, Elizabeth Worth. And Mike Brouwer, I'll have each one of you introduce yourself. And if you could just talk a little bit about your role with the county and we'll start with Brandy then go to Elizabeth and then Mike.

Brandy Kenney 01:06

Hi, I've been with the Johnson County Mental Health Center for eight years. I've done most of my time in the emergency services division and working with the crisis team. I'm the newly hired team leader for the new Reentry program that we're developing here at Johnson County.

Theresa Freed 01:22

All right, we're happy to have you and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Worth 01:25

Yeah, I am the Director of Adult Services for Johnson County Mental Health Center. We have two years ago started the Justice team as an addition to our adult division. And then this Reentry Project is yet another addition to our adult services. So we're really excited to have this program under our division.

Theresa Freed 01:47

Awesome. And then Mike, you're also fairly new to the county. So if you want to talk about your role.

Mike Brouwer 01:52

Hey, Mike Mike Brouwer, I'm the criminal justice coordinator, which is a part of the County Manager's Office. But I serve the Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which is a council of our key criminal justice stakeholders, and agencies support individuals in our criminal justice system that meets regularly throughout the year, to work on issues such as the one we'll be talking about today, Reentry.

Theresa Freed 02:17

Okay, and just to start us off with about, what is the Reentry Project like, how did this get started? And what does it involve?

Elizabeth Worth 02:27

So I can I can answer that the program is specifically for Johnson County residents that are 18 years older, who are either incarcerated at or being released from one of our Johnson County adult detention centers, or the jail. So it could be the adult residential center problem solving beds that we have here at the county with corrections or at our two jails. The key to this Reentry Project is that it's specifically designed to serve those with severe mental illness, severe emotional disturbance, or and or CO occurring substance use disorders, who are re entering the community. So the focus is more specific on the mental health and substance use piece.

Theresa Freed 03:12

And so can you talk a little bit about what that looks like?

Brandy Kenney 03:15

Yeah, so, I can take that question. So it's gonna look like collaboration is going to be the key. And this particular program, it fills the gaps that exist, because of the way our systems are set up. There isn't necessarily a natural handoff, but we'll now be able to know when someone is releasing and immediately begin a needs assessment with them, or service provisions with them. And so collaboration is going to be the key.

Theresa Freed 03:43

So it sounds like that screening process is pretty critical to identify what exactly those needs are, and then what sorts of services are offered.

Elizabeth Worth 03:52

Our goal really is to start working with people before release. And so with part of the collaboration that Brandy was talking about is we hope to identify these people, even 60 days ahead of release so that we can wrap around our services and give them that support so that when they do release, they already have that support established and then more likely to follow through those resources or those services that will provide will be case management, therapy, group therapy, medication management. And we have a program in the jail and in the community called medication assisted treatment or MAT and that's something that will be offered to these folks as well. We have employment specialists that will work with the Reentry Program, assisted outpatient treatment. So as you can tell, there's just a large variety of services that these folks will be eligible for.

Theresa Freed 04:51

And so what's the end goal with this program?

Brandy Kenney 04:55

The end goal of the program is the big end goal is we want to see every reduction in recidivism amongst the community. And also some of our end goals are going to be, you know, the quicker we can get involved with someone and be helping them with some of the concerns they might have, we're going to hopefully see, you know, that there's not a continuous stay in a legal system, that we're managing their mental illness that maybe we're seeing a reduction in substance use, because of the the role that we're playing with individuals reentering into the community.

Theresa Freed 05:28

And so it probably seems pretty obvious. But I mean, this benefits the individuals, of course, but how does it benefit our community as a whole,

Elizabeth Worth 05:37

the biggest benefit is that because recidivism is such a big issue, it's costly to the taxpayers. There's more people in jail with severe mental illness than there are in psychiatric hospitals. So we know that it's not the right place for people to get the support they need to manage their mental health. So overall, you have a community that's healthier, if you can reach out to people and provide them service and get them connected to those things. You know, we will teach people skills to help them navigate the complicated systems that they have to, they have to navigate, help them learn coping skills to manage their mental illness. So we want them to be able to come back in the community with access to care with with employment opportunities with insurance benefits, family supports, you know, mental health, substance use treatment, all of those kinds of things that we would all want,

Theresa Freed 06:31

And what are some of the risks involved, when we don't have this kind of intervention, so both to the individual, and then also, you know, family, and then just, you know, law enforcement or, or people out in the community,

Brandy Kenney 06:44

I think some of the risks can be like that, that, again, that continued stay within the the legal system, the continued pressure on family members, when you have someone that is releasing, but is releasing with with no resources and no help or guidance for that individual. And it will help them reintegrate back into the community better with employment with housing. And then of course, when individuals are having some of those needs met, then then their social interactions are going to increase as well like with with their family members, that would be a hope. And so that would kind of that would be some of the the risks that we're seeing that we hopefully would see that with, reduce being involved in the program.

Theresa Freed 07:24

And, Mike, this is a topic that the Criminal Justice Advisory Council is very much interested in. So can you talk about what are the discussions happening and who are the players interested in this?

Mike Brouwer 07:39

So we have quite a few agencies that are interested in this, of course, the sheriff's office as caring for people with mental health issues, or substance abuse needs in the county jail. It's difficult, it's expensive. The staff, although they get a fantastic amount of training with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, they still aren't as equipped as professionals like Brandy and Elizabeth are to be working with these folks. And so, and then also our mental health partners, at Johnson County Mental Health that if they know someone is in jail, and they have the opportunity to intervene with initiating treatment services, while they're there, make sure they're stabilized. And that that plan that started in jail can continue into the community that makes it easier for them to serve this population. You think about our art, our judiciary, they don't want to see people fail in the criminal justice system. They don't want to see people miss court. Our judges care very much about people having an opportunity to be successful. And then finally, our probation departments. You know, we have found that people with mental illness or co-occurring disorders are less likely to be successful on probation. It's one of the reasons why we've embedded Johnson County Mental Health staff in our probation department. We have supportive agencies that part of our councils such as NCircle, who works to help get individuals like this employment agencies like United Community Services that are working with us as well to make sure that people have opportunities for housing. And so, you know, this really is a passionate issue amongst the council. And Reentry has been a constant conversation for the council since its inception 13 years ago.

Theresa Freed 09:49

All right, great information there. And I do think we need to take an opportunity to to kind of dispel some myths. I had the chance to sit in on some of the co-responder training a couple of years back. And I think one of the things that they addressed was this perception that people who have mental health concerns are sort of innately dangerous or unpredictable. And really, what we're talking about here is addressing their needs. So that to eliminate that stigma, of course, but also to to create this environment where they can thrive. So can you talk about that a little bit?

Elizabeth Worth 10:24

Um, so yeah, you're exactly right, that, you know, through that program, we we destigmatize the sort of violence that's associated sometimes with mental health. And so, you know, we approach our work with people as they're people. And we start with their strengths in mind. That's the philosophy of our agency, Johnson County Mental Health Center, and it always has been, so we really work to build on people's strengths and use their strengths to kind of guide their journey and their recovery. The recovery is our focus. And so people have a lot of skills and abilities, and sometimes they just don't know the right place to put them. So we kind of help them identify that.

Theresa Freed 11:05

And can you talk about some of the success stories that you've seen with this program?

Brandy Kenney 11:10

So this program is actually relatively new to this, to Johnson County Mental Health, I'm hopeful that we'll see some of the same success stories that you've mentioned, our co-responder partners there, you know, we have seen success there with fewer hospitalizations, fewer individuals being arrested and taken to our county facilities. That's the best scenario for the individual that we're dealing with. But it's also best scenario for the community. It's a cost savings program. So hopefully, we'll see some of those same success stories. You know, in the communities where they have done Reentry, they do have success or to go on with with their program as well. So we're hoping to have the same conclusion here.

Theresa Freed 11:53

And tracking some of the successes of the program is important for a multitude of reasons. You know, when we talk about how we invest our dollars in programs and services, that's really key. And so Mike, do you want to talk a little bit about this new dashboard that will kind of take a closer look at some of that.

Mike Brouwer 12:11

Thanks, Theresa. You know, we're really excited to talk a little about the dashboard that we are, we'll be launching here next week. But this dashboard came about because Johnson County is a founding member of the National Stepping-Up initiative, this initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails. It's sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, by National Association of Counties, and by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. In 2018, Johnson County was named a National Innovator County, one of seven counties across the nation to receive that distinguished designation. And, as an innovator County, we are challenged to the ask to lead the more than 600 counties nationally, who have joined the initiative. And about a year ago, Stepping-Up launched a new initiative called Set, Measure, Achieve. They wanted us to set goals for reducing the mental health population in our jails, they wanted us then to to provide measure. So that's the dashboard I'll be talking about. And then to show that we are able to achieve these goals through initiatives like co-responder in Reentry. And so it's taking some time to put this dashboard together, there are four key majors that stepping up wanted us to report out on. One is the percentage of individuals with mental illness being booked into jail. The second is, when they're booked into jail, how long do they stay? So the length of stay? The third is do they come back to jail? So we're looking at what we call recidivism. And the fourth is then do they get connected to care post release from the detention center. And so, you know, thankfully, through the work of the Sheriff's Office, Johnson County Mental Health and our county JIMS department, our jail management system, they've actually been tracking a lot of this information for four years. And so it was a matter of aggregating the data, developing a dashboard and then releasing it public. And so we said we'll be doing this next week. I do want to point out to the way of showing some appreciation to our partners, that Johnson County will be one of the first five or six counties nationally to release this dashboard and will be the first county that actually can show connection to care through connection between electronic databases, which is very important. And this data, this data has already been utilized in decision-making for the county. One is, after about a year of collecting this data, the Sheriff's Office and the Mental Health Center decided that they wanted mental health staff providing those services jail, so that we have that direct connection to our community. So that changed in January of 2020. And then, this data was actually utilized in the grant application with SAMSA for the Reentry group. So, and now by displaying this information publicly, we'll be able to, as partners in this work be able to refer to that data, be able to, at any time, see what our progress is, or see opportunities where we can make improvements such as, how did COVID impact people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, and we're going to see these type of trends in this dataset. And so we're very happy to share this with the community and, and I just want to thank all the partners for a lot of work to get this done.

Theresa Freed 16:13

Alright, great information, we of course, look forward to releasing that to the public and getting some good feedback on ways to, to enhance that data and use it in various ways, as decisions continue to be made. So anything else to add about the Reentry Project, Brandy and Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Worth 16:32

I think we're just excited to get this off the ground and watch it grow. As Mike mentioned, the connection to care piece is one of the four data points that we're collecting, I think we're gonna see a huge shift in the amount of connection to care with this Reentry project. And, really, from that, we'll see a lot of success from the program,

Mike Brouwer 16:54

Sixteen years of working in jail, we have found that when people come to jail, they get stabilized. Medically, we make sure we take care of their needs. For mental health symptoms, we make sure that we address those, they become sober, because they're not able to abuse substances. And they have a lot of time to sit and think. And so their motivation for change is never higher than when they are in our detention center. And so that is why from a resource standpoint, and from a financial standpoint, the best opportunity is to introduce services like mental health Reentry Program to individuals, when they're at their highest state of readiness for change. And, and so that's what we'll be looking to do. And that I think will give us the best opportunity for results and working with people out in the community after they get released.

Theresa Freed 18:00

That's great information. And we, of course, look forward to the dashboard but also the successes of the Reentry Project for sure. Thank you all for being here today. We really appreciate the collaboration obviously from from Johnson County to make our our community safer and to help individuals in need. We will have links to additional resources available through Johnson County Mental Health Center and also that dashboard once it's released in the show notes of this episode. Thanks for listening.

Announcer 18:30

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening.

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