Jails still holding mentally ill inmates for extended time

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — In Illinois, county jails are still housing inmates mentally unfit to stand trial for extended periods of time and in some instances over half a year.

In June six county sheriffs sued the Department of Human Services and Governor JB Pritzker, alleging the state using COVID orders as a means to not take inmates was against the law. In August, they were granted a temporary restraining order against the orders forcing DHS to pick up its inmates from those county jails.

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage was a part of that lawsuit.

By law, the transfer of mentally ill inmates from county to DHS custody must happen within 20 days of the court order.

Right now, there are nine mentally unfit inmates in the McLean County Jail that should be in DHS custody, and many are still waiting extended periods of time on their transfer. The longest has currently waited over 170 days.

Director of inmate services and behavioral health at the McLean County Jail Jackie Mathias said until then it’s costing county taxpayers extra dollars and spreading jail staff thin.

"We do have several that are in observation areas. They’re non-compliant with medication, they don’t care for their own personal hygiene. It can cause safety issues for staff," Mathias said.

On average, Mathias said those inmates are waiting anywhere from 5-7 months on their transfer, costing them valuable treatment time.

"The longer someone goes without treatment, obviously the more detrimental it is for them and the harder it is to return them to a place of stability," Mathias said.

Mathias said there is a full-time therapist and case manager at the McLean County Jail, however, their time is limited.

"That’s for every single person in the jail," Mathias said.

Mathias said DHS has more resources and staff that can work with the mentally ill on a more individualized basis and ways county jails cannot.

"They (DHS) have daily psychiatrists/doctors, they have groups, they have therapists and psychologists and more than one for their clients. And they can when necessary go through the channels to force medication which is something we cannot do," Mathias said.

In Peoria County, Sheriff Chris Watkins reported as of Friday four inmates awaiting transfer to the state’s DHS.

"The latest one is Aug. 31, and the other three happened in October of this year, so it’s not too bad," Watkins said.

Watkins said he hopes to see the inmate ordered to human services in August leave the jail soon, but overall transfers are happening quicker.

"Beginning of the year, 8-10 were on hold for DHS. In July, early August, we got most of those transferred out," Watkins said.

Mathias also said a psychiatrist visits the McLean County Jail on a weekly basis for four hours a day. She said that’s not nearly enough given the population of the facility, but they’re looking to extend it by a couple of hours within the next couple of weeks.

IDHS stated that they are working diligently to admit patients in need of care.

"At IDHS, we continue to work diligently and in good faith to admit patients in need of care in state psychiatric hospitals.  Despite experiencing the behavioral workforce shortages seen across the nation, we have recently added over 90 more forensic beds and are working to add more to meet the significant increase in referrals that we’ve seen from the courts over the past year."

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November 4, 2022 at 06:24PM

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