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Mental Health Court fee OKd
Cook County Board measure to raise $300,000 a year

Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Despite reservations from its leader, the Cook County Board approved a $10 fee Monday that will help fund the Mental Health Court that began last year as a pilot program.

Starting March 1, the fee will be charged to defendants who are found guilty of felonies or misdemeanors in Cook County Circuit Court, or who are granted supervision by a judge overseeing their case.

The fee is expected to generate $300,000 a year.

The measure had broad support from county commissioners, but Board President John Stroger voted "present," expressing concern that county government is increasingly shouldering the state's burden for dealing with the mentally ill.

"There are certain limitations on what [the county] can do," Stroger said. "Running a mental health program is not one of the things that the county should be involved in."

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said the pilot program is already running and the fee was a "reasonable" amount to help defray the costs.

"I know it's a burden," Suffredin said of the fee, "but being convicted of a crime puts some burdens on you."

Commissioners Jerry Butler (D-Chicago) and Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) voted against thefee, citing concerns about increasing court costs on a largely low-income population.

They were successful in delaying a vote on a proposed $5 fee to help fund what is known as teen or peer court for juvenile offenders.

The Mental Health Court started in May 2004 with the goal of moving mentally ill inmates from Cook County Jail into treatment centers.

Commissioners hope the new funding source will allow the program to expand to a point where it can reduce the population of the chronically overcrowded jail.

Also Tuesday, the board approved rebidding environmental abatement, such as asbestos removal, of the old Cook County Hospital and the surrounding buildings.

County officials say the abatement will be necessary whether the old hospital is torn down or renovated, a decision yet to be made.

The board had been expected to vote on a $1.4 million consulting contract to examine the campus and determine a cost estimate for reusing the 91-year-old structure on Harrison Street.

However, a committee vote on the contract was delayed Monday by Republican commissioners when two Democrats failed to show up for the meeting on time.

The Republicans said they needed more information on the proposed contract with politically connected U.S. Equities, a company headed by Orlando Jones, Stroger's godson and former chief of staff. Jones is a subcontractor.

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