Mental health court starting in Labette county, Kansas

County attorney, others, start mental health court
Mental health court starting in Labette county, Kansas

An alternative to prison time for people with a severe mental illness is coming to Labette county, Kansas.

It’s a grassroots effort.. started by the Labette county attorney’s office with help from area law enforcement, and aims to end a cycle of repeat offenses by people with mental illnesses, by helping them get treatment.

Stephen Jones, Labette County Attorney: “Right now, we just don’t have a lot of other tools, other than classical probation, parole, sending them to prison, sending them to jail.”

Those are some of the different fates that anyone could expect if they are convicted of a crime in Labette county.

Something that county attorney Stephen Jones wants to change for people with mental illnesses, by creating a mental health court.

In the new court, a defendant who may have a severe and persistent mental illness.. like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.. will be assessed by the Labette Center for Mental Illness against state standards, then sent through a treatment program instead of being sent to jail.

Matt Atteberry, Exec. Dir., Labette Center for Mental Illness:”I think nowadays most folks would agree there are some folks who, yes maybe go out and commit a crime, but if they really are in fact committing that because of an illness, jail and incarceration really isn’t an answer.”

Jones also hopes diverting people with mental illnesses to treatment will decrease the number of repeat offenders going through the system.

Jones:”Many times people that have severe and persistent mental illnesses are repeat offenders, and so the jail will have the same person, they might have five, six, seven, eight cases and they’re all the same, if we can keep people from going to prison who have these diagnosable mental illnesses, and we can divert them into treatment, that is the better option.”

All to help those people get the help that they need.

Atteberry:”I think it’s a win win. It affords the accountability piece of, yes you committed a crime, no one’s suggesting that wasn’t a crime, but again, there’s recognition that it was heavily influenced by your illness.”

Jones:”It’s not gonna solve all the problems that we do have, but sometime justice dictates that we handle the individual person a little bit differently than we might otherwise do, and I think this is a situation where that’s gonna work.”

The mental health court will not be an option for those guilty of murder or other serious crimes.

The program will start on January 2nd, with the first court day on January 17th.