BLOOMINGTON — A Bloomington man's incarceration could stretch well beyond his March 2016 parole date if no suitable housing is available in McLean County when he leaves prison after serving his time on weapons charges.
Bailey Pontius was 18 when he took his mother’s handgun from a safe in March 2014 and later engaged in a standoff with police officers on a country road west of the city.
He was sentenced to four years for possession of a stolen weapon, but with credit from the prison system and his time in county jail, he is eligible for release in March 2016.
Pontius' history of severe mental illness dates back to childhood when he attended school sporadically in between long stretches in mental facilities.
His mother, Angie Britch, said fears that his mental illness is not under control have forced her to shut the door on his plans to return home. Britch has signed papers confirming her decision that he must live elsewhere.
“It’s hard as a mom to basically say to the state, 'I need you to keep my son,' but I still fear he may hurt other people,” she said.
Pontius' father, Pete Pontius, said his son has not responded to attempts to contact him.
Absent his placement in a halfway house or other appropriate housing, Pontius could be kept in the Department of Corrections for his two years of mandatory supervised release, known as parole. He also must complete 30 months of probation after his prison time for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
More housing with 24-hour supervision for severely mentally ill residents is needed in McLean County, said Britch.
For about 25 years, one group home has filled the needs of a growing population. Operated by the Center for Human Services on the city’s west side, the rooming house has a low turnover rate for residents that stay for as little as a year to as long as two decades.
At the East Moline Correctional Center, Pontius has seen a therapist and works in the kitchen. Staff is aware of the teen’s potential to be victimized and keeps an eye on his interactions with other inmates at the minimum security prison, said Britch.
Still, the state’s limited resources do not match what would be available for Pontius in a residential mental health facility, she said.
“It’s a pretty sad existence. He’s clearly not getting the help he needs,” said Britch, adding she must remind him of basic tasks. “At the end of each visit, I tell him to brush his teeth, wash his face and brush his hair,” she said.