- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Several groups in Shawnee County and Topeka are looking for ways to deal with an increasing number of inmates with a mental illness.

Director Brian Cole of the Shawnee County Department of Corrections said around 16 percent of inmates in the nation has a mental illness, and in Shawnee County, that number is slightly higher at 18 to 20 percent, the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1ENGEP7 ) reported.

“I think it’s a much bigger problem than what we thought,” Cole said. “It’s an overwhelming problem.”

The county and the city of Topeka are taking steps toward helping solve the issue by providing more thorough training for corrections specialists.

The Topeka Police Department also has a designated Crisis Intervention Team officer. Anyone who has a diagnosed, severe mental illness and is charged with a misdemeanor crime is eligible for the alternative sentencing court, which offers a probation program.

Participants are required to report once a week to the court. Around 10 people are involved in the program, but municipal court Judge Vic Miller said there’s a cap of 20 people.

Cole said the Shawnee County Jail underwent a major overhaul following the 1999 suicide of an inmate. The jail put a mental health team in place and began offering more intense training.

“It’s training on how to recognize someone going into mental crisis,” Cole said. “What makes things problematic is having adequately trained and experienced staff to deal with this tough population.”

The jail is facing a high turnover rate with correction specialists. It also is facing a challenge of high monthly bills for medications - the jail spent more than $313,000 on medications last year and about one-third of those were for psychotropic drugs.

Cole said it costs the Shawnee County Department of Corrections around $95 per day to house an inmate. It costs around $300 a day to house an inmate with a mental illness.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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