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2022 Kansas Mental Health Summit draws government leaders, attendees from ...

Event seeks to improve court, community response to behavioral health issues

TOPEKA—A two-day summit focused on court and community response to behavioral health issues is scheduled April 13 and 14 in Topeka and it’s drawing registrants from across the state. 

The 2022 Kansas Mental Health Summit is the first of its kind in Kansas. Its more than 600 registrants include judges, legislators, attorneys, court services officers, community corrections officers, and representatives from the executive branch, mental and medical health disciplines, law enforcement, first responders, and community leadership. It even includes a handful of participants from other states: Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, and Washington.

Governor Laura Kelly, Senate President Ty Masterson, Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, and Chief Justice Marla Luckert will deliver opening remarks.

The summit planning committee chairperson, Judge Robert Wonnell, said he was inspired to organize the statewide summit after attending a similar regional summit in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 2019. That summit was the work of a national judicial task force involving the National Center for State Courts, the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the State Justice Institute.

“Local jails and detention centers are the largest providers of mental health services in the state,” Wonnell said. “I have to ask myself, what am I doing as a judge, in my court and in partnership with other professionals in my community, to make sure that our justice system addresses issues as early as possible in the process and ultimately reduces recidivism? Enhancing that system not only benefits the individual with a mental illness, but ultimately every Kansan.”

To answer this for himself and others who have a stake in the issue, Wonnell and the summit planning committee identified local and national speakers with a variety of experience improving the court and community response to mental illness.

Judge Steven Liefman of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida will deliver a keynote address that describes what judicial leadership was able to accomplish in Miami-Dade County, the seventh largest county in the nation with a population of nearly 3 million.

The summit has support and representation from all three branches of government. In addition to planning committee members Rep. Brenda Landwehr and Sen. Pat Petty, Governor Kelly appointed multiple executive branch representatives to help coordinate the event.

Luckert noted the makeup of the planning committee and the roster of speakers reflect the cooperative effort required to make progress on this issue.

“Providing a better response to mental illness and illegal behavior that stems from it isn’t just for the court or the jail to decide, it’s up to the entire community,” Luckert said. “This summit brings together court and community stakeholders to identify how we can accomplish together what we cannot achieve working alone.”

Other speakers on the agenda will give perspectives on local and national initiatives, and panel discussions will feature local speakers who will report their experiences in their own Kansas communities.

Represented on the agenda from Kansas are members of the Criminal Justice Reform Commission, Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, Special Committee on Mental Health Modernization and Reform, and the Governor’s Behavioral Health Services Planning Council. Also represented are Larned State Hospital, Pawnee Mental Health Services, and the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. _______________

Reporter resources:

Kansas Mental Health Summit Scheduled for April 13–14, 2022, an article by Judge Robert Wonnell published in the Journal of the Kansas Bar Association.

2022 Kansas Mental Health Summit webpage, fact sheet, and agenda.