Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System

Considerations for incarcerated and detained persons with mental health issues have become increasingly common in the criminal justice system in Kansas. An overview of recent legislation and available services, including crisis intervention, mental health courts, and Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) mental health services follows.

Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator and Criminal Justice Reform Commission—2019 HB 2290

The 2019 Legislature passed HB 2290, which created and amended several laws related to public agencies. Among these provisions, the bill created a position of Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator within the Office of the Attorney General and created the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission (KCJRC) to study and make recommendations on various aspects of the criminal justice system, including several topics related to mental health.

Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator

The bill required the Attorney General to appoint a Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator (Coordinator) and additional support staff, as appropriations allow, to identify, create, and coordinate and support youth suicide awareness and prevention efforts throughout the state.

The Attorney General appointed a Coordinator in August 2019.

Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission (KCJRC)

The KCJRC is comprised of 19 voting members and 3 non-voting members, and is required to, in relevant part:

  • Analyze diversion programs utilized throughout the state and make recommendations with respect to expanding diversion options and implementation of statewide diversion standards;
  • Study specialty courts and make recommendations for the use of specialty courts throughout the state;
  • Survey the availability of evidence-based programming for offenders provided both in correctional facilities and in the community, and make recommendations for changes in available programming; and
  • Study the policies of KDOC for placement of offenders within the correctional facility system and make recommendations with respect to specialty facilities, including, but not limited to, geriatric, health care, and substance abuse facilities.

The bill required one member of the KCJRC to be a mental health professional appointed by the Kansas Community Mental Health Association. At its first meeting, the KCJRC voted to establish five subcommittees, including one related to mental health and drug treatment.

The bill required the KCJRC to prepare and submit its preliminary report ( to the Legislature, which was submitted in November 2019, and a final report and recommendations due to the Legislature on or before December 1, 2020.

Preliminary Report Recommendations Related to Mental Health

The Mental Health and Drug Treatment Subcommittee made recommendations relating to requesting an inventory of major mental illness or abuse disorders, allowing 2003 SB 123 drug treatment prior to conviction, and funding regional treatment beds. It also recommended that the Legislature adopt the recommendations of the Mental Health Task Force Report, as provided to the 2018 and 2019 Legislatures, to implement and fund a comprehensive plan to address voluntary and involuntary hospital inpatient capacity needs while providing all levels of care across all settings.

Final Report Recommendations Related to Mental Health

The Mental Health and Drug Treatment Subcommittee made recommendations relating to SB 123 treatment; access to mental health services; co-occurring disorders; co-responder programs; behavioral health in jails and correctional facilities; and mental health and substance abuse workforce development, among other recommendations. For a complete list of adopted recommendations, please refer to the 2020 Final Report (

Juvenile Crisis Intervention Centers—2018 House Sub. for SB 179

The 2018 Legislature created and amended law to establish juvenile crisis intervention centers and procedures for admission of juveniles to such centers. For more information on 2018 House Sub. for SB 179, see article H-2 Juvenile Services, available at

Crisis Intervention Act—2017 Senate Sub. for HB 2053

The 2017 Legislature passed legislation related to the care and treatment of persons with mental illness and problems with substance abuse through Senate Sub. for HB 2053, also known as the Crisis Intervention Act (Act). The Act outlines requirements for the use of emergency observation and treatment in a “crisis intervention center,” defined as an entity licensed by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; equipped to serve voluntary and involuntary individuals in crisis due to mental illness, substance abuse, or a co-occurring condition; and uses certified peer specialists.

KDOC Mental Health and Behavioral Health Services

KDOC facilities provide comprehensive health care through private companies under contract with KDOC. Each facility provides 24-hour mental health care for inmates, including on-site crisis intervention, use of designated hospital rooms or appropriate health facilities, and emergency on-call mental health professional services when the emergency health facility is not located nearby. Mental health services are provided to inmates based upon psychiatric assessments.

Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility

Historically, Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility has housed the most severely mentally ill adult male inmates within KDOC, along with a significant number of inmates with behavioral disorders that make them an unacceptable risk for housing in another facility. The Central Unit served as a transitional unit for inmates who are not able to function in the general population of a traditional correctional institution for mental health reasons, but are not in need of psychiatric hospitalization. Inmates were assigned to this facility by mental health staff at other correctional institutions. In May 2017, KDOC announced plans to convert the 150-bed maximum-security Central Unit to a medium-security unit to house certain offenders ages 18-25 years old with high recidivism potential. The 150 inmates with mental health issues previously housed in the Central Unit were subsequently transferred to the behavioral health unit at El Dorado Correctional Facility in summer 2017.

Larned State Hospital

At Larned State Hospital, 115 beds are reserved for KDOC offenders who need a higher level of psychiatric care. There, inmates are provided mental health care and treatment in either the acute care or the residential rehabilitation program (RRP). The purpose of RRP is to provide psychiatric rehabilitation and vocational services to adult males referred from KDOC, with the intent of preparing these individuals for successful reintegration into the community or back into KDOC services as determined on an individual basis.

Alternative Sentencing Courts

Alternative sentencing courts, or specialty courts, are established as an alternative to incarceration for persons with mental health issues, substance abuse issues, or both, who are convicted of misdemeanors. These courts offer treatment, support, and counseling. Many times, those who suffer from mental health disorders also suffer from addiction to drugs, such as opioids. For some mental health courts, diagnosis of a major mental health disorder is required for participation. However, if the participant is also addicted to drugs, treatment for that addiction will coincide with treatment for the underlying mental health disorder. Kansas has not established a statewide specialty courts program, but several judicial districts and a few municipalities have established programs.

KCJRC Preliminary Report Recommendations Related to Specialty Courts

The KCJRC Specialty Courts Work Group, organized to study and make recommendations on specialty courts in the state, included in its report to the 2020 Legislature that it identified 24 specialty courts in Kansas, which include truancy courts, behavioral health courts, youth courts, mental health courts, tribal healing to wellness courts, veterans’ courts, and drug courts. These courts were initiated at the local level and operate with no special funding by the Legislature. Kansas Supreme Court Rules 109A and 109B govern the conduct of the courts and require compliance with the Best Practices Standards published by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and other organizations.

KCJRC Final Report Recommendations Related to Specialty Courts

For the KCJRC Final Report to the 2021 Legislature, the Specialty Courts Work Group recommended that the Legislature adopt legislation to require the Kansas Supreme Court to adopt rules for the establishment and operation of one or more specialty court programs within the state. The recommendation was adopted by the KCJRC and included in the 2020 Final Report.

Natalie Nelson, Principal Research Analyst

Jordan Milholland, Senior Research Analyst