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Kansas Medicaid Expansion Could Help Cut Jail Totals, Advocates Say

Experts and proponents of a potential Kansas Medicaid expansion say that it could reduce jail populations and reduce recidivism rates, the Kansas Reflector reports. Crawford County, Kan., Sheriff Danny Smith cited the state’s struggle to provide mental health care to inmates. “The main thing, and I imagine every sheriff would say the same thing, is there’s nowhere to take them," he said. His county's jail can house about 100 inmates, and he estimates a large majority of them have some sort of mental health problem. Advocates for Medicaid expansion say expanding access to medical care would save medical costs for jails like his. 

As things stand, counties in Kansas shoulder in-facility health care and treatment expenses for inmates, a cost that’s become more burdensome because of the severe shortage of room in psychiatric facilities across the state. In some situations, people who haven’t been accused or convicted of a crime but who are deemed a danger to themselves or others are processed by prosecutors and sent to the county jail until a hospital bed is ready. State mental health hospitals have been overwhelmed with demand. Though the state has increased mental health beds in the past four years by about 32%, need far outpaces resources. Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said Medicaid expansion would provide alternatives. “If we have more comprehensive, accessible, affordable options here in the community, then individuals are less likely to get to a place where they are untreated in their mental illness so much that they commit a crime and then have to go into the jails and the carceral system more broadly in order to receive mental health care,” Brett said. “These are all in a single continuum of expanding services.”


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