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KADNER: Mentally ill people sit in jail and get little help

Friday, August 25, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Phil Kadner

KADNER: Mentally ill people sit in jail and get little help


The individuals covered by the recent legislation are in such bad shape that a judge has deemed them unable to participate in their own defense, or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Despite court orders that they be placed in care, the state Department of Human Services has been so backlogged with cases due to years of budget cuts that officials simply ignored requests from corrections officials to pick up the inmates.

As of Aug. 7, according to sheriff’s officials, Cook County Jail had 20 people awaiting transfer to the DHS. That included a 62-year-old woman charged with criminal trespass who had waited 117 days for placement in a mental health care facility.

This woman had entered an apartment building, gone to the laundry room and decided to sleep on the floor. The landlord and tenants complained that she had repeatedly entered the apartment building’s lobby, sometimes urinating and defecating there.

She had been arrested nearly a dozen times for similar minor infractions all traceable to her mental illness. She finally was transported to a mental institution after Rauner signed the new law. She had been sitting in a cell for more time than she would have served had she been convicted.

That woman was one of 16 individuals who had waited more than 25 days since their orders of mental incompetence were issued, according to a statement released by the Cook County sheriff.

The new state law requires that court clerks notify DHS within five days when a court order has been issued mandating that a jail inmate be assigned to mental health treatment. There previously had been no deadline for the orders to go out.

Under the new law, DHS is required to evaluate the defendant to determine placement within 20 days of receiving the order.

If DHS doesn’t show up at a jail within that time frame, the sheriff’s office can transport the inmate to the nearest state mental health facility.

The larger problem is that too many mentally ill people end up in jails and prisons because treatment is not a priority in this country. This is a small victory. You have to start somewhere.


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