Our Justice System Can’t Cope with Mental Illness
The Illinois criminal justice system is not equipped to handle inmates with mental health issues. Despite the fact that people struggling with mental illness need treatment, in our society too many of them wind up in jail, putting a strain on both those that have the mental health problems and those without them.
Estimates from 2009 show that about 2 million times each year, people with serious mental illnesses are booked into U.S. jails. The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) estimates that 16 percent of 48,000 individuals in the total DOC population have a mental health disorder. Unfortunately, jail only makes their conditions worse, since jailed inmates with a mental illness rarely receive the treatment they need and wind up staying longer than prisoners without mental illness, and then recycling back into the system after they get out.
The experienced and seasoned Illinois criminal law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., understand the seriousness of the situation and offer aggressive representation for mentally ill clients facing criminal charges. We know the courts and the criminal justice system, and how to plea bargain, negotiate guidelines and recognize when to take your case to trial. When we take on a criminal case, we look at all viable defense options. We have been successful helping other people with mental illness and will do everything possible to vigorously fight for you and defend your rights and freedom.
We offer a free initial consultation. If you have been accused of any criminal charges, get help today by calling our offices or contacting us online.
Problems with the Mentally Ill
There are several issues that cause problems dealing with the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, including:
- Lack of early diagnosis and treatment so a mentally ill person doesn’t get into trouble with the law in the first place. Many wind up in jail for minor or nonviolent incidents related to a crisis, or jailed for offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, retail theft of food or supplies, breaking and entering to find a place to sleep, or illicit drug use.
- Drug laws too often require incarceration instead of treatment for those arrested for drug violations.
- There are no standard screenings for mental illness; screenings in most county jails are subpar, so mental illness gets overlooked.
- There is a lack of treatment, rehabilitation programs, staff and facilities once individuals are incarcerated. Mentally ill inmates who need treatment often act up and are then placed in isolation cells where they may be strapped down, which can worsen their symptoms. Inmates have a long wait time to see a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
- There is a lack of follow-up programs once inmates are released. Having a criminal record makes it more difficult for the mentally ill to integrate back into society, and there aren’t enough programs to help.
What Can Be Done
- Define and screen for mental illness — Criminal justice and mental health leaders need to agree upon and define what serious mental illnesses mean and screen everyone booked into jail. The process should begin with collecting data on people who have mental illnesses and enter jails. A searchable electronic database should be created to record mental health screening results and enable those with mental illnesses to be referred to a licensed clinician for a full assessment and to be connected to the appropriate treatment and services.
- Increase programs that work. An example is Cook County’s mental-health screening for people arrested and taken to the county jail. Arrested individuals are interviewed in order to find alternatives for the mentally ill that can be suggested to the judge.
- Develop programs before the mentally ill get into trouble. Treat mentally ill patients in their own communities and provide resources and treatment that will keep them from coming into conflict with police.
- Provide education. Those studying for criminal justice careers in the S. should be given training on how to deal with the mental illness of justice-involved populations.
- Prioritize treatment, not incarceration. Communities should create options to divert the mentally ill to treatment and services—before arrest, after arrest and at all points in the justice system.
- Provide help while in jail and upon release. Individuals should have access to needed medication and support while in jail, should be signed up for health coverage if possible, and should get help planning their release to ensure they get back on track.
- Get inmates plugged into community-based treatment after they are released. TASC-Illinois, is one organization that helps inmates re-enter society.
- Encourage collaboration between those on the frontlines of mental health and criminal justice.
Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation
If you or a loved one is charged with a crime and has a mental illness, it is essential to retain the services of a defense attorney experienced with mental illness issues. The seasoned and compassionate Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. know the courts and the system and can often help mentally ill individuals get a dismissal or a lesser offense or penalty.
We are aggressive litigators and will work with you to fully understand the facts surrounding your case and find alternatives to jail. We represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, and the greater Chicagoland area.
Delaying can only make your situation worse, so call or contact us online today to schedule your free initial consultation.