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Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mental Health Court - ILL

Thanks to Mike over at Corr Sent for this catch on a judge who stepped up and made this happen. It's a preview of how things are progressing nationwide.

MOLINE - In the first six months of last year, a Moline woman had at least 107 run-ins with police.

In the second six months, she had one.

Something major happened in the middle of the year: She met Rock Island County Associate Judge Ray Conklin. Karen’s contacts with police had mostly to do with something often referred to as “annoyance complaints.” When her bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had gone too long unchecked and unmedicated, Karen often behaved badly. She shouted wildly in public places and trespassed at businesses where she knew she had been banned.

“I got tired of seeing her at first appearances, so I snagged her,” Conklin said. “If you look at her mug shots, you can tell if she was on her medicine or not. She wasn’t a criminal. She needed medication.” The Quad-City Times is identifying her only by her first name because the charges against her are misdemeanors.

When Conklin “snagged” Karen, it was into a system that barely existed. In fact, she was the first defendant to appear in Rock Island County’s Mental Health Court early last summer. Between Karen’s obvious mental-health problems and a previous jailhouse suicide by someone else who was mentally ill, Conklin decided the court could wait no longer.

When he read in the newspaper several months earlier that Charles Slaughter Jr., a 43-year-old who also had bipolar disorder, had hanged himself in his cell after being declared unfit to stand trial, the judge made a resolve. He looked at what another Illinois court was doing with mentally ill inmates and launched a campaign to start one in Rock Island County.

It was too late for Slaughter. But maybe he could help Karen.

Conklin’s expertise is the law. He spent 30 years as a private-practice attorney, often defending high-profile murder defendants in Rock Island County Circuit Court. He was sworn in as an associate judge in August 2004.

The 58-year-old collected some expertise in areas such as the behavior of sex offenders but said he would like to know more about the mental illnesses that are addressed in his court.

“I need some training — some kind of seminar or something for the layman,” he said. “If I’m going to Paris, I need to know enough French to order off the menu, you know?”

But he wouldn’t necessarily need to be an all-out expert. In his courtroom, he recruited those who already worked with the mentally ill to guide the new system in a direction that made the most sense. It was an easy sell “Mental health court is something we’ve envisioned for years,” said Michelle Nicholson, director of rehabilitation services for Transitions, a Rock Island-based agency that specializes in vocational training for the mentally ill. “The label of mentally ill can be hard enough, but, when you add the label of criminal, you’ve tied their hands.”

Workers at the Robert Young Center, with outpatient offices in Moline and Rock Island, also were a natural fit. They already were familiar with many of the mentally ill inmates who would not be committing crimes if not for their disorders. They were on board, too.

Probation officers from the county’s Court Services Division also would be needed. They knew the case history on many of the people who could qualify for the new court, and their familiarity would be critical if Conklin was to be effective as a judge.

But he would not bear the burden alone. Fellow Associate Judge John Bell quickly answered the call to split the mental health court duties with Conklin.

“I was not drafted,” he said. “It was a very easy decision to take part. In fact, I want to re-enlist.” The circuit’s chief judge, Jeffrey O’Connor, also was on board. He knew the score on what was happening to the community’s mentally ill from his own years on the bench. “Somebody who is off his medication might take a swing at somebody and end up in jail on a battery charge, and that’s not the problem,” he said. “In mental health court, we can evaluate, mediate and supervise.

“That guy who took a swing at somebody is not in charge anymore. He’s not free to get on or off his medication. He can get into mental health treatment and out of criminal courts where he doesn’t belong.” The new court also would need the cooperation of the county sheriff, the jail administrator and one more critical position that had the potential for a tough sell. Would Rock Island County State’s Attorney Jeff Terronez be willing to allow some defendants’ charges to simply disappear if they followed the judges’ orders in mental health court?

“I’m A-OK with it, primarily because we’ve screened the cases so well,” Terronez said. “Keeping people locked up is probably the worst thing you can do with mental-health issues. “Get them out, get them treatment and monitor them.” The new court was open for business

There is another step. The court is purely voluntary. It operates under recognizance bonds, and the condition of release under the bonds is that defendants must comply with the judge’s orders. Some are ordered to take medication, to undergo regular drug screens, submit to an evaluation, show up for court dates and meet with case managers and probation.

The main beneficiaries of mental health court are the defendants They are getting treatment and medication, rather than being locked up in the county jail where their conditions often deteriorate. But the benefits don’t end there.

“The focus for all of us involved with this court is what is best for the individual and, by the same token, what’s best for society,” said David VanLandegen, director of the county’s Court Services. “I think you’re going to see a reduction in the long run — those misdemeanants who never become felons.

“That’s best for those living with mental illness, their families, the courts, society, everyone.”

The best way to get there is to act quickly, monitor closely and offer treatment and medication to those who are willing, although sometimes reluctant, to take it.

The former county jail administrator, Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Dean, said he and his predecessors have complained for years that some inmates are too sick to be in jail, that they belong in treatment and that their problems are sometimes too much for correctional officers to deal with.

“Many of the mentally ill are homeless and indigent,” he said. “State statute sets the bond for various crimes, but, when you’re homeless, any bond is unreachable.

“They sat in here and got sicker and sicker. From the law-enforcement side, our hands were tied. But we’re leaps and bounds from where we were a year ago.”

A growing trend In 1997, there were four known mental health courts in the country. By the start of 2004, there were 70 such courts in 29 states. The number grew to 120 in 35 states by early 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice. In Scott County, there is no court that specifically addresses mental illness. The agency also reported that mentally ill inmates spend 15 more months on average in state prison, at a cost to the system of an additional $5.7 billion in 2005.

Officials with the National Alliance on Mental Illness say the new mental health courts show “promise.” According to NAMI’s Web site, mental health courts show “a promising strategy for communities seeking to improve the response to people with mental illness in the justice system.”
Read the Article here


Anonymous said...

My friend, Skitz, was diagnosed as Bi-Polar, depressed, and ADHD by the Colorado DOC and given different drugs by different doctors. At age 19, he was refused admission to drug rehab because of these problems. He was sentenced to 4 years in DOC and sent to Limon. He had a record of 35 incidents such as flooding the pod, pulling out the smoke detector, and getting tatoos. DOC decided, when he was going to expose the guards that were bringing in drugs to Limon, to send him to solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in a cell, at CSP (now we need another one of these prisons because of this abuse of power by DOC).
He broke his hand in multiple places in November at a DOC prison, was mis-diagnosed again, and sent to "drub rehab", where they found his hand needed surgery. He was in pain and was refused medications, so he turned back to heroin and cocaine, overdosed and was found dead on December 20. Mike

Anonymous said...