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Corrections officials seek funding to treat more mentally ill inmates

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at 6:11 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at 7:14 a.m.

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The Department of Corrections is seeking money to provide treatment to more mentally ill inmates.

Thirty-eight percent of the state’s prisoner population has a mental illness – an increase of 126 percent since 2006, Secretary of Corrections Ray Roberts told the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget adjustments call for $3 million in 2014 and another $4.1 million to fully fund the Corrections Department’s health care contract with Corizon, which includes mental health care.

“In order to just stay functional, there has to be some expansion of mental health management,” Roberts said.

Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, was taken aback by the statistic.

“Well, that’s an alarming number because it looks like it’s continued to grow, and we probably have to figure out a way to fund that so we can treat those individuals,” he said after the meeting.

Increased funding would allow the department to hire more clinicians and offer mental health services to more inmates, corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said after the meeting. He noted that the Department of Corrections is the state’s largest mental health care provider.

Roberts said the rising number of mentally ill prisoners has been a trend nationwide.

Kerschen asked if mentally ill inmates created a greater expense. Roberts said the high cost of psychotropic drugs makes treatment more expensive for inmates with mental health needs.

Brownback vetoed the corrections budget for 2015 last year, saying the department needed more funding.

His new budget proposal also includes an additional $2 million for adult offender programs, which provide targeted rehabilitation for behavioral health, substance abuse and sexual offenses.

The money would make the programs available to more inmates, said Barclay. The programs focus on decision-making so offenders make better choices when they are released, he added.

“We have developed a lot of cognitive-based programming to address the criminal thinking issues that mentally ill offenders have,” Roberts said.

The state has reduced inmate programs by about 60 percent since 2009, and that has resulted in gaps, he said. For example, 66 percent of inmates are substance abusers, but only 10 percent of released offenders with substance abuse problems receive services.

Among sex offenders, only about 60 percent received facility-based programming, Roberts said.

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, the committee’s chairman, expressed enthusiasm about an increased focus on rehabilitation.

“If you can find effective programs to treat … if you can lower the number of people that are incarcerated, you can lower that section of the budget,” Masterson said. “So I’m all for programs that reduce recidivism.”

Other increases in the 2015 budget include 28 additional corrections officers for Topeka Correctional Facility after a U.S. Department of Justice audit found that the prison had insufficient staffing, Roberts said.

Brownback’s budget reduces funding for juvenile corrections in 2015, cutting almost $1.4 million. The number of juvenile offenders in out-of-home placements had dropped from 416 in February 2013 to 368 in November.

Roberts said the decrease would not affect the amount of money the state gives per juvenile to the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch in Sedgwick County.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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