Grant Transforms Mental Health Public Safety - Criminal Justice Interaction

A $105,000 FY08 grant from the National Association of Mental Health Program Directors served as the spark for the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health (IDMH) to take the lead in beginning the transformation of the relationship between individuals coping with mental illness involved in the Illinois criminal justice system. Known as the Transformation Transfer Initiative (TTI), the project established a Mental Health and Justice Advisory Committee in addition to forming a wide-ranging mental health and justice stakeholder group to create in-depth survey workshops in all five IDMH regions to investigate the state's system of care for justice-involved individuals with mental health challenges.

"Although we had access to some well known specialists and resources, ultimately we owe our success to the cooperation and commitment of our diverse stakeholders," observed IDMH Forensic Director, Dr. Anderson Freeman. "We had representatives from the Illinois Departments of Corrections and of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the Sheriff's Association, the state chapter of NAMI and The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. But we didn't stop there. Not only were a host of community providers involved but a number of the state's most distinguished jurists rolled up their sleeves and joined us in the effort."

An Expert Tool

The grant allowed the study to obtain expert technical assistance and access to the Sequential Intercept Model. The model offered an extremely accurate way to measure and consequently assess the impact of current community public safety and state criminal justice policies and practices when dealing with mentally ill individuals.

The tool is based on the research that indicates that at any juncture in the public safety - criminal justice continuum there is an opportunity for a "constructive interception" through intervention or diversion. It identifies key intervention points where access to treatment services will help people with mental disorders avoid further criminal justice involvement and an unproductive delay in getting vital mental health assistance. It comes as no surprise that this resource served as an invaluable aid to IDMH as well as the above-mentioned Mental Health and Justice Advisory Committee and stakeholder groups.

Final Report Conclusions and Recommendations

The final report of the current status and recommended strategies for transformation is notable for its comprehensiveness and suggested priorities. Among its findings is the need for:

  • Additional Police Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT)
  • More pre-booking diversion options
  • Expanding "Data Link" as a statewide tool to identify justice-involved mental health consumers eligible for "constructive intervention"
  • Improving preliminary screening and basic jail mental health services
  • Reviewing the Unfit to Stand Trial (UST) and the Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) processes with an eye to reducing jail waiting lists for hospital admission and accelerating procedures for examining outpatients as well as competency restoration
  • Integrating field parole staff with community mental health planning to enhance future parole coordination with mental health service providers
  • Developing "gap funding" for mental health consumers transitioning from jails and prisons into the community
  • Expanding integrated dual disorder treatment services
  • An appraisal of the accumulating "legal disabilities" faced by consumers with mental illness to improve collaboration among the IDMH, the Illinois Veterans Administration, the public safety-criminal justice continuum and other system partners

IDMH Director Lorrie Jones congratulated the dedication and hard work of those involved, "TTI participants truly went the second mile to address the issues facing people with mental illness who interface with the criminal justice system. Because of their commitment, new ideas and additional options will not only work to advance our common aim but also to transform perceptions and outcomes for the better. I expect the report to not only to become our standard but to serve as a national model for change."