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Survey: Nearly Half Of Kansas City Jail Inmates Report Mental Health Problems

Nearly half of all inmates at the municipal jail in Kansas City, Mo., indicated they had a mental health problem, according to the latest results from a periodic survey administered by an outside contractor.

Roughly 45 percent of the respondents answered “yes” when asked if they thought they had a mental health problem or had been told they had one, according to the survey results, which were delivered earlier this month.

The figure was about even with the percentage of affirmative responses in the 2011 survey — 41 percent. But only about one-third of the respondents, or 35 percent, answered “yes” to that question in the inaugural 2001 survey.

(Related: See how plans for a new mental health crisis center in Kansas City are advancing.)

The increase over the past decade corresponds with a reduction in available mental health dollars from the state, says Bruce Eddy, executive director of the Jackson County Community Mental Health Fund, which residents fund through property taxes.

“Community resources are maxed out,” he says, “and they are clearly not enough.”

Jackson County operates the roughly 150-bed municipal jail, known as the Regional Correctional Center.

Eddy says the fund commissions the survey because it pays for mental health programming at the jail, in addition to making grants for services in the county jail and the court system. 

Eddy says he also was concerned about the level of substance abuse among inmates, with 60 percent of the respondents saying they thought they had a problem with drugs or alcohol or had been told they had one. That figure has remained relatively stable during the course of the surveys.

Mental health services are in short supply in general, Eddy says, and it’s even worse for substance abuse treatment.

He also says he finds it interesting that, when asked to choose what they needed to meet their mental health needs, inmates through the years have consistently identified housing and support from family.

Farther down the list, Eddy says, are services like counseling and drug/alcohol treatment, areas of significant focus for providers.

“We need to make sure that the system is actually responding to peoples’ interests,” he says.

Kansas City Municipal Court has made an effort to divert defendants from jail through its Mental Health Court.

Presiding Judge Joseph Locascio says the fact that the survey results are the same or worse over time does not mean those effort have been fruitless.

To him, it just underscores the level of unmet need in the community. He argues that the people helped by the court are just replaced by people who have not been able to get the help they need before getting into trouble.

“I just feel like we have a lot of work to do,” Locascio says.

Mike Sherry is health reporter for the Hale Center for Journalism at KCPT.

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