The availability of community mental health services isn’t everyday conversation for most people. That’s slowly turning around in McLean County, with the lead taken by — of all places — the county jail.
A recent inspection by the Illinois Department of Corrections found the McLean County Jail exceeds state requirements for services that link mentally ill inmates to help once they are released. By constitutional mandate, jails must meet the physical and psychological needs of inmates.
Earlier this summer, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart — who often has 2,500 mentally ill inmates among his 10,000 lock-ups — established the Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy. The Associated Press reported Dart also started a 24-hour mental health hotline for ex-inmates and the families of current inmates.
In McLean County, Sheriff Mike Emery and the National Institute of Corrections are working toward a mental health unit at the jail. Currently, inmates with special needs are housed in the booking area and the jail sets up referrals for services and provides medication to inmates as they leave custody.
The IDOC report said expanded treatment opportunities for inmates “will provide the maximum amount of services available to the mental health community anywhere within the county.”
It’s no secret that a lot of inmates have some issue with mental illness or addiction. Sometimes those maladies lead to criminal behavior; sometimes, they are an adjunct issue. Regardless, helping the inmates surely will help the larger community in the long run.
However, we must question why the jail has become the county’s leading provider of mental health services when the McLean County Board also approves a tax levy designated for mental health services monitored through the health department and a community board.
The county must review those providers’ work to make sure everyone — including inmates — has adequate services and support.
The mentally ill shouldn’t have to commit a crime in order to get help.