MORRIS – Grundy County’s recently approved Mental Health Court program is shelved until next spring due to a delay in funding – disappointing news for several local officials.
“We’re sort of eager and ready to go,” Grundy County Judge Lance Peterson said. “I didn’t think there was going to be any issues at all so I’m not sure what will happen next.”
Local officials and professionals worked five years to obtain approval for the new court, which was granted earlier this month by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
The Mental Health Court is designed to divert nonviolent, mentally ill offenders away from prisons and into a locally run rehabilitation program. Participating offenders are treated by mental health professionals and provided with the resources needed to reintegrate into society.
The goal is to keep mentally ill offenders from recommitting crimes and returning to prison by providing proper medication and treatments.
With the green light from the state, Grundy’s Mental Health Court was anticipated to start accepting participants this fall pending the approval of about $100,000 in annual grant money.
The issue stems from lawmakers in Springfield who may not appropriate the funds needed for the court.
The funding trickles down from the state and is administered through Illinois Adult Redeploy, an organization sponsoring state programs aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, disrupting the incarceration cycle and saving taxpayer money.
Redeploy programs are indeed saving money, according to Mary Ann Dyar, program administrator for Adult Redeploy, who said they saved the state about $4 million dollars in the first quarter of 2014 through diversion programs.
Based on that success, the state agreed to shell out additional money to Adult Redeploy for new programs – including the Mental Health Court in Grundy – but decided against the appropriation during the spring session.
The fate of the Grundy County Mental Health Court will likely be decided during the Illinois General Assembly veto session this fall when lawmakers can reprioritize the the funding.
“It’s all about the almighty dollar, at this point,” Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland said.
Dyar said Adult Redeploy is fighting for the funds, but admitted there is a lot of uncertainty.
“We are building a case,” Dyar said. “Should supplemental funding be available for additional dollars.”
If they receive the dollars, it would still be January or later before Grundy County could be brought on.
Peterson said Grundy has already has identified about eight mentally ill offenders with pending cases that could be eligible for the program if it were to go into effect this fall.
Aside from treating the offenders, the program would save Grundy taxpayers a significant amount of money.
“It’s actually cheaper to treat them than it is to incarcerate them,” said Helland, who has pushed for the program since being elected.
Grundy’s Mental Health Court organizers and advocates include Peterson, Helland, the public defender’s office, the probation department, Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan’s office, the Grundy County Health Department and Susie Galloway with Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers.
Helland said his office and the others involved are pressing local lawmakers to plead their case at the capitol, focusing on how the program will save money and keep people out of prison.
“We know the program will work,” he said.