TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Shawnee County Department of Corrections is asking county leaders to pay for a project its says would help better meet the mental health needs of its jail inmates.

Shawnee County of Department of Corrections Director Brian Cole is set to address the county commissioner this week to propose the construction of a mental health living unit at the jail.

In 2021 and 2022, Cole says 51% of Shawnee County inmates reported experiencing problems with their mental health. He says because the jail doesn’t currently have proper mental health facilities, this proposed unit is crucial to inmates’ overall health.

This new unit would focus on concerns like medication, treatment and group therapy. These services could help inmates transition back into the community post release. Cole says it’s important to provide inmates with these resources because they have a right to treatment just like everyone else.

“There are people that have high-risk needs, and just because they are in jail doesn’t mean that stops, said Cole. “We have not only an ethical obligation, but a legal obligation to provide adequate care and services.”

Cole estimates this mental health unit could cost the county more than $10 million in the form of reserved county bonds. He’s also working with the state and federal congressional delegation for additional government funding.

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If approved, this project is expected to be completed in about two years.