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Johnson County judge wants defendants with mental illness treated, not sent to jail

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Matthew Ansley
A Kansas summit brought together stakeholders to "improve the court’s response to mental health issues," according to the summit website.

The 2022 Kansas Mental Health Summit brought together more than 600 people to address the mental health crisis in the Kansas criminal justice system.

Judge Robert Wonnell, an organizer of the 2022 Kansas Mental Health Summit, wants to reform the practice of putting individuals with mental illness behind bars in lieu of providing them mental health treatment. To accomplish this mission, he's brought together all three branches of the Kansas government to develop a plan.

Crisis stabilization programs are one tool to reform the system and reduce recidivism, according to the Johnson Country judge.

"Someone can go to a crisis stabilization center to get stabilized, and then address what happened if a crime was committed," Judge Wonnell said. "You don't ignore it, but is it potentially a different system that can look at the overall picture and ultimately, even that alternative system, potentially reduce recidivism."

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