MORRIS – In 2006, the Bureau of Justice reported nearly 1.3 million mentally ill adults were incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. According to local officials, Grundy County was not immune to the trend.
A need to better treat and rehabilitate mentally ill prisoners prompted a group of local officials and professionals to pursue the creation of a Mental Health Court.
After five years of researching, planning and applying, the Grundy County Circuit Court was recently approved by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to start a local Mental Health Court program this fall.
The program is designed to divert nonviolent, mentally ill offenders away from prisons and into a rehabilitation program where they will be treated by mental health professionals and provided with the social resources needed to reintegrate into society.
“This will help people who have fallen through the cracks and have not received the treatment they need,” Grundy County Judge Lance Peterson said. “This is a good thing for the community. Truly a win-win.”
Grundy will join a growing group of Illinois counties offering mental health court programming.
Peterson said the “problem-solving courts” are becoming more popular as they have proved to save taxpayer money and reduce recidivism rates or how often an offender returns to prison.
“They come out of prison with less tools to cope with what we throw them back into. So, they resort back to that which we tell them not to do,” Grundy County public defender JD Flood said. “It just isn’t working, and we’re going broke to make it not work.”
According to Adult Redeploy Illinois – the state-sponsored agency working with Grundy to establish the new court – the average Illinois prisoner costs the taxpayers roughly $21,500 a year in lodging, food, security and other expenses.
On average, one year of intervention programming through Adult Redeploy costs taxpayers $4,400, said Mary Ann Dyar, program director for Adult Redeploy.
“What we’re trying to do with this funding source is to work with local stakeholders and find something that will work for this population,” Dyar said. “Particularly those with underlying unaddressed drug or alcohol or mental health issues.”
The court may be needed now more than ever as mental health funding was dramatically reduced in recent years, leading to the closure of several mental health institutions throughout the state.
The Illinois Department of Human Services reported an 18 percent decrease in total mental health funding for community services, hospital operations and administrative costs between 2009 and 2012.
With less funding coming in, the IDHS Division of Mental Health has implemented cost-saving measures, meaning several mental health programs have been placed on the chopping block.
In 2011, the state’s division of mental health began restricting access to and the amount of services provided to non-Medicaid eligible people with mental illnesses, according to the IDHS Mental Health Strategic Plan released in 2012.
“Especially with the cuts in state funding, these people are just left on the street, and they need help,” Flood said. “In a lot of cases, what gets them into the criminal justice system isn’t always criminal intent or conduct, it’s the result of their mental illness.”
Grundy’s court is scheduled to begin this fall pending a grant appropriation of $100,000 annually from Adult Redeploy, which funds various community-based programs throughout the state.
Peterson, State’s Attorney Jason Helland, the public defender’s office, the probation department, Sheriff Kevin Callahan’s office, the Grundy County Health Department and Susie Galloway with Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers will work together to identify and treat the potential mental health court participants.
Peterson said they already identified eight qualifying participants, but think there are several more offenders eligible for the program.
“You really have to commend Grundy County for getting into the data, coming up with these solutions and then really going after these resources,” Dyar said. “It says a lot about the leadership in that county.”