Reversing the Criminalization of Mental Illness – Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center (KC-ATC)
National Council for Behavioral Health
November 18, 2016

“On November 2013, Kansas City, Missouri’s first responders, mental health providers, municipal court and mayor’s office decided that enough was enough. Our community knew that the number of arrested and jailed individuals with mental illness was unacceptable, and any solution required cross-systems collaboration between local government, criminal justice and mental health.

To address the problem, the City of Kansas City, the Kansas City Police Department, community-based organizations and seven Kansas City area hospitals created the ReDiscover Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center (KC-ATC), which opened on October 31. After being picked up by law enforcement or referred by a local hospital, clients can stay at the center for up to 23 hours, providing enough time for KC-ATC employees to provide mental health and substance use treatment and develop post-treatment plans, like provider referrals, emergency housing preparation and prescriptions. By providing a space dedicated to mental health and substance use treatment, clients avoid more restrictive and inappropriate placements.

Before collaboration, the only real options for law enforcement were to hold people with mental illness in jail or send them to a hospital emergency room. Jails are never an appropriate setting for someone in a mental health crisis and ERs are often overcrowded and ill-equipped to handle psychiatric conditions. Without accessible behavioral health services, mental illness put an unyielding strain on police departments and ERs. In fact, Kansas City ERs experienced, on average, 9,000 visits for serious mental illness each year from 2012 to 2014.

Even before opening its doors, the KC-ATC already had a tremendous impact. From July to September 2016, it decreased homelessness among some of Kansas City’s frequent ER users by 75 percent using emergency housing granted to us by the Department of Mental Health and the Jackson County anti-drug tax. These new residents are at a decreased risk of drug use and have clear access to health services, decreasing the likelihood of further contact with the municipal court and hospitals.”

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