Mental Health Crisis and Jails

By Jeffrey Fewell

Witnessing the increasing numbers of mental health patients in our county jails is a huge concern. In any given month at the Wyandotte County Adult Detention Center, we:

-admit 1280 inmates

-process 320 sick calls

-conduct 90 physicals

-conduct 650 mental health assessments

-issue medication to 270 inmates

-issue over 100 psychotropic medications

-care of 2 HIV infected inmates

-care for 4 pregnant females

-care for 3 suicide attempts

During all this activity with court, legal visits, family visits, farm outs and releases, it is extremely difficult to manage and care for the mentally ill or the medically disabled. Jail is not a good place to be, especially if you have a special need. Our jails are designed for short term confinement and to facilitate one’s judicial processes until the criminal laws of the state and federal government. We are unstaffed, underfunded and overextended. I believe this is true for most of the correctional facilities throughout the United States. I do not believe the people of any county government want “state of the art” correctional facilities and programs at the cost of education, healthcare or public roads.

The government’s economic crisis has threatened the mental health facilities within our state. If these facilities are closed, imminently we will see a rise in our jails populations. The two fastest growing populations in our jails are maximum custody and special needs inmates. These two populations, consequently, are the most costly inmates to care for and secure. Funding must be kept to keep our mental health facilities, as well as our correctional facilities, at acceptable levels.

History repeats itself. When you close mental health facilities and cut funding for our correctional facilities, our crime rates will skyrocket. Then we will have even more serious problems when our cities are no longer safe to work and live.

Jeffery Fewell is the Administrator of the Wyandotte County Adult Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Fewell was one of many people who testified last week against closing the Rainbow Mental Health Facility to the Kansas Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission.


On a typical month at the Wyandotte County Detention Center, the mental health department assesses over 650 inmates including 70 with serious mental health special needs. 22 of those with mental health special needs are housed in a designated mental health pod, receiving daily care, and 19 others require suicide watch. Psychotropic medication is provided to 100 inmates daily. Since August 2008, mental health special needs housing has doubled within the jail and these numbers are expected to climb. It is not uncommon for an individual to arrive at the jail homeless and in need of mental health intervention due to limited resources. Jails are already overcrowded and with the potential closure of Rainbow State Hospital the population of the mentally ill in jail will without question increase. It is important to the community as a whole to keep state hospital beds open to serve this population that is so desperately underserved.

Over the past 15 years there has been a 65 percent reduction in psychiatric beds in the metro area. During that same time, the inmate population has nearly doubled. With the growing number of uninsured and lack of public services, many people with mental illnesses are going untreated. This results in an increase in homelessness and crime that clogs our jails. Properly funding and treating mental illness can reduce criminal activity up to 80%, increase employment, decrease homelessness, improve physical and mental health and reduce domestic violence, child abuse and lost worker productivity. I agree. It’s crucial for our community to not only keep these beds, but to find a solution to this growing problem and address the availability and distribution of a full continuum of mental health care.

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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at