Stepping Up Initiative
As one of seven counties in the nation selected as a Stepping Up Innovator County for expertise in helping people in the criminal justice system who experience mental illness, we do important work every day to build a justice system that improves outcomes for those with short-term and long-term mental health challenges.
Johnson County has been a Stepping Up County since May 2015 and an innovator county since May 2018.
Years before the Stepping Up Initiative, The Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice selected Johnson County in 2010 as a national learning site involved in improving outcomes for individuals with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.
Justice Center staff and county leaders explored opportunities for alternatives to incarceration for individuals with mental illness when appropriate including specialized policing responses, diversion programs requiring supervised mental health treatment, mental health courts and mental health probation caseloads.
As a leader in this area, we wanted to share the efforts and resources Johnson County is putting towards this effort.
- Mental Health Co-Responder Program: Started in 2011, is a collaborative program of Johnson County Mental Health Center that embeds a clinician within law enforcement. The co-responder goes on calls for services with first responders when mental illness is identified as a factor in a call. This innovative program effectively provides follow-up and engagement with people to get them into local services and prevents them from being incarcerated, ending up in emergency rooms or being involved in continued interactions with law enforcement.
- Crisis Intervention Team (CIT): CIT is a collaboration designed to improve the way law enforcement and community partners respond to people experiencing mental health crises. Johnson County’s CIT council facilitates a 40-hour training to equip officers through educational presentations, verbal de-escalation simulation and a panel of clients and family members who speak from their personal experiences. CIT training aims to enhance the officers’ skills in responding safely and creatively to mental health calls, reduce repeat calls for service and unnecessary arrests by connecting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis to appropriate treatment and reduce the likelihood that an officer would need to use physical force.
- Mental Health First Aid (MHFA): MHFA is an eight-hour training that gives participants the skills they need to reach out and provide initial support to someone developing a mental health or substance abuse problem. The training is a part of the One Mind Campaign which unites communities, law enforcement agencies and mental health organizations in addressing mental health crises in communities.
- Brief Jail Mental Health Screen (BJMHS): In 2016, Johnson County adopted an electronic version of a BJMHS into the jail’s booking process to capture baseline information. Johnson County Mental Health Center is notified of individuals who would benefit from further evaluation. Mental Health follows up with them about appropriate services in an attempt to decrease their odds of returning to jail.
- Justice Team: Johnson County Mental Health Center’s Justice Team provides mental health services in the two Adult Detention Centers within Johnson County. The team provides clinical assessments, discharging planning, mental health services, psychiatric medication management and assistance in finding mental health resources in the community after release. This team also provides outreach to individuals after discharge, an effort that is proven to decrease recidivism among those with a serious mental illness.
- Veterans Treatment Court (VTC): In January 2016, Johnson County District Court began the first VTC in the state of Kansas. Its mission is to identify veterans in the criminal justice system and, when eligible, to place them into treatment and court supervision as an alternative to incarceration.
- Mental Health Diversion: The District Attorney’s Office offers a Mental Health Diversion program to defendants whose offense is correlated with a serious mental illness and who qualify under the policy. The objective of Mental Health Diversion is to direct defendants whose mental illness is ongoing and affects their ability to function in key areas of life to participate in mental health treatment through a licensed provider in lieu of further prosecution.
- Reentry Project: Beginning February 2022 this project utilizes designated staff to provide essential services to help individuals 18+ with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use transition back into the community. Qualified mental health professionals, including clinicians, a case manager and a peer support specialist, ensure reentering citizens have access to support and resources to assist with their unique needs. This project is a partnership between the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Johnson County Department of Corrections, which includes the county jail. Both organizations have extensive experience in the community as providers of law enforcement, correction, rehabilitation and recidivism reduction.
- AOT Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT): The AOT program is a promising practice of delivering outpatient treatment under court order to adults with severe mental illness who meet specific criteria, such as a prior history of repeated hospitalization or arrest. It is a tool for assisting those individuals most at risk for the negative consequences of not receiving treatment. The objective of AOT is to provide a supportive treatment intervention and to establish a relationship with the treatment team and court to reach their treatment goals. Agencies included in this collaboration are the District Court, DA’s office, Court Services and Johnson County Mental Health.