Governor Kelly Expands Mental Health Initiative
to Kansas’ Juvenile Justice System

~~Kansas is the First State in the Country to Implement
the Stepping Up Initiative in the Juvenile Justice System~~

TOPEKA – Governor Laura Kelly announced today the launch of The Council of State Government’s (CSG) Justice Center’s Stepping Up Initiative in Kansas’ juvenile justice system to reduce the over-incarceration of Kansans with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The initiative provides Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) staff at juvenile justice system facilities with training and other technical assistance (TA) to identify youth who could benefit from behavioral health supports and services to avoid re-incarceration.

Kansas is the first state in the country to launch the Stepping Up initiative in its juvenile justice system.

“Before I got into politics, I worked in a minimum-security prison for boys, where I saw firsthand the benefits of having access to mental health resources,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “That’s why we are expanding the Stepping Up Initiative to our juvenile justice system, so that we are better able to identify and provide mental health and addiction supports to kids who could benefit from them. Helping young people get set up for successful futures will make our state safer and save us money down the road.”

This announcement builds on the Stepping Up Initiative’s success in adult facilities. In February 2021, CSG partnered with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to create the Kansas Stepping Up TA Center to address the cycle of incarceration of Kansas adults with mental illness.

So far, 95 counties have benefited from TA opportunities, including trainings, webinars, and the sharing of best practices between counties. The TA Center has assisted counties with enhancing infrastructure, building stronger collaboration across the mental health and justice systems, and increasing data capacity at the local level — all of which have strengthened county-level efforts to keep individuals with serious mental illnesses out of jail.

“We’re excited about this collaborative effort as we all pitch in with our expertise, with a primary focus of intervening as early as possible to keep young people out of jails and prisons,” Secretary of Corrections Jeff Zmuda said. “The availability of these additional mental health resources is critical to addressing the behaviors and needs of juvenile Kansans with that goal in mind.”

“Kansas’ pioneering move to launch the Stepping Up Initiative in its juvenile justice system not only sets an inspiring precedent for the nation but also reflects our unwavering commitment to rewriting the narrative for young Kansans with mental illness,” said Megan Davidson, the program director of the Stepping Up initiative at the CSG Justice Center. “By expanding this initiative to juvenile justice, we are thrilled to deepen our partnership with Kansas and extend the Stepping Up framework to benefit youth and communities throughout the state. Together, we are embracing hope, recovery, and meaningful change at the intersection of justice and behavioral health, paving the way for a brighter future for youth in Kansas.”