SPRINGFIELD — A state task force has released recommendations for helping youths with mental health conditions to stay out of jails and prisons.
The report by the Illinois Mental Health Opportunities for Youth Diversion Task Force laid out 14 recommendations to divert youths from the justice system. About 70 percent of the nearly 30,000 youth arrests and 11,000 youth admissions to Illinois jails each year involve a child who meets the diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition, according to the report.
Serious mental illness affects about 20 percent of those entering the juvenile justice system, noted the report.
"Instead of treating these instances as an opportunity to connect these youth to effective community-based mental health services, they are too often directed toward law enforcement," said the report.
To keep youths from the justice system, the task force recommends improvements to mental health screenings to identify children who may be at risk for mental illness and training for community members to help them identify the signs of mental health issues in order to guide families to services.
Law enforcement could play a role in keeping youths out of juvenile court, the report suggests, by providing officers with Crisis Intervention Team training. A diversion program that provides options other than arrest for misdemeanor offenses committed by mentally ill youth also was recommended.
The task force recommends the expansion of juvenile mental health courts to connect more youths with treatment and more funding and services for youths after they are released from detention.
The task force established by state statute in 2017 included state legislators, law enforcement and mental health providers. The Illinois Justice Project and National Alliance on Mental Illness of Chicago served as co-chairs of the task force.