Criminal Justice Coordinator Mike Brouwer wanted to pursue a career where he could help people. “Before there was a Dr. Phil, I was going to be Dr. Phil,” he said, with a chuckle. “I was passionate about behavioral change and envisioned this idea that I would be a Freudian therapist.”
He grew up in central Iowa and attended Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary in Belton, Mo., where he played basketball. While in college, he married Debra, his wife, and they moved to Olathe, where he finished his bachelor’s degree in psychology at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe. They had two children, a son and daughter, who are now ages 30 and 25.
Brouwer said he struggled to find a job that paid living wages with his degree, so he worked two jobs. He was a referee for high school basketball and soccer games, and he worked for Community Living Opportunities (CLO) in Olathe, where he started as a daytime care worker who took care of adults in a home setting and then quickly was promoted to a vocational coach and house manager.
Then, he worked about a year and a half as a vocational counselor at Miami County Mental Health Center in Paola and spent a lot of time helping patients of the state mental health hospital make the transition back into their communities. “I really liked working there and working more in mental health,” he said.
In 1998, Brouwer began working at Johnson County Mental Health Center as a senior young adult transition program counselor. He worked with youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who had onset mental illness and their families. The goal was to provide intensive services, so they wouldn’t need long-term services. He assisted clients in helping to achieve their goals by connecting them with services. In this position, he worked with the School of Education at KU, where a professor encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree. After learning that federal funding was available, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity and so he earned a Master of Science in Education, Transition and Career Development in 2006.
A year earlier, in 2005, Brouwer began working with people in the criminal justice system because the Johnson County Mental Health Center wanted to improve communication with people who had been treated for mental illness in the jail. Brouwer was named forensic assertive community team leader and forensic services case manager. He developed processes for the management and care coordination of individuals released from the jail and worked alongside them as an advocate.
About four years later, Johnson County began talking about reducing the number of people in jail with mental illness and how they might go about doing the work. They received a grant to look at the entire criminal justice system, which is now called Sequential Intercept Mapping. It provided information about state regulations and requirements, funding mechanisms and recommendations. Among the recommendations was starting a reentry program at the jail to help people transition back into the community after being incarcerated. Brouwer played an instrumental role in implementing the new reentry program for the Johnson County Jail as a team leader, program designer and grant manager. He also implemented cognitive behavioral programming in the jail.
While at Johnson County, Brouwer collaborated with the Shannon Murphy who was the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office reentry director at the time. Douglas County also was implementing a reentry program at the Douglas County Correctional Facility. “We met every month to collaborate and problem-solve together,” he said.
A few years later, Murphy accepted a job in Washington, D.C., and so Brouwer applied for her job and was hired as the Douglas County reentry director in October 2012. “The goal of providing reentry services is to remove barriers that’s going to make it difficult for someone to be successful when they are released from jail. Those barriers can be many and they can be very individualized,” Brouwer said. “We work with people on what they are willing to do and then applying best practices to that work.”
With a background in case management and mental health, Brouwer helped implement cognitive behavioral programming at the Douglas County Correctional Facility. It currently offers three behavioral health programs during and after incarceration:
- Decision points, an entry-level program into services.
- Moral Reconation Therapy, a psychological model.
- Cognitive Behavior Interventions for Substance Abuse.
Brouwer said the Douglas County Correctional Facility has more than 40 programs and 70 volunteers. As reentry director, his responsibility was to oversee programs, case management services and community engagement and work with contracted staff providing services to inmates.
While serving as reentry director, Brouwer advocated for development of the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC).
As a member of the Douglas County CJCC, he contributed to the creation of hiring a dozen positions to improve mental health crisis and helped develop a budget and program proposals for a behavioral health court, pretrial release program and jail screening and assessment. Post implementation:
- About 110 individuals in the community are on pretrial release.
- 22 individuals on average are participating in behavioral health court.
- Jail bookings for people with mental illness decreased by 56 percent.
- Additional projects were funded by the Douglas County Commission.
In October, Brouwer was hired as the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinator. He is looking forward to focusing all of his energy on coordinating efforts to improve the criminal justice system in Douglas County. “It’s a great opportunity for professional growth,” he said.
This month, The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center presented its findings and recommendations to improve the justice and behavioral health systems in Douglas County after an 18-month study. Among its recommendations: develop a mobile crisis response team, expand the co-responder program and implement a plan for transportation services. Brouwer said the recommendations are in line with work that’s already under way and is looking forward to helping implement them.
Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said Brouwer brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with the criminal justice and behavioral health systems at the local, regional, state and national levels. “We are fortunate to have someone who is a leader in this work at the national level, but also has Douglas County-specific knowledge of the criminal justice system.”
Brouwer said the criminal justice system includes law enforcement, detention centers, courts, supervision agencies and health agencies. “Because we don’t have state hospitals, we now have to consider mental health and addiction services. While they may not be a direct piece of the system, they are an essential piece,” he said. “The whole goal is public safety and the best way to improve public safety is to improve people’s health – whether that’s medically, psychiatrically or addiction services. That has to become a tool in the criminal justice system if we’re really going to promote public safety.”
As for his other job as a referee, Brouwer recently hung up his hat after 30 years. He estimates that he refereed 5,000 basketball games and 4,000 soccer games. “I really enjoyed it, but I had to stop because it was becoming too hard physically.”
While in college, Brouwer had considered becoming a basketball coach. Instead, he has become a life coach for hundreds, if not thousands of people.
Rebecca Sudja, reentry case manager at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, described Brouwer as a mentor. “One of the reasons I applied for the position was because I knew about Mike and his leadership. I wanted to be part of his team,” she said. “He’s always seeking learning opportunities and encourages his staff to do the same.”
* Story by Communications Specialist Karrey Britt