Chief Judge Evans announces launching of Mental Health Court pilot program
Released on 5/10/2012 4:41:35 PM

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans today announced that the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Criminal Division will launch a Mental Health Court pilot program in which a team comprising a judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers and social service agencies oversee mentally ill probationers to ensure compliance with treatment and monitor progress toward improved mental health.

Chief Judge Evans said,"The Mental Health Court pilot program is based on the assumption that if mentally ill offenders on probation are required to adhere to treatment by taking their medication regularly and are provided certain social services while under court supervision, their mental health will improve, reducing their chances of committing another crime, and leading to increased safety in our communities."

"Our goal is simply to try and stop the revolving door of crime and mental illness in which some mentally ill offenders are trapped," said Chief Judge Evans. "The Mental Health Court team will provide intensive oversight and heightened sensitivity to the special circumstances facing mentally ill offenders," said Chief Judge Evans, adding that such enhanced case management is currently used in the court’s adult drug treatment court program in the Criminal Division.

Participation in Mental Health Court is only available to defendants charged with a nonviolent felony who have an open case file with the Illinois Office of Mental Health (OMH). Defendants will be identified as OMH patients by program staff during the detainee intake process conducted by Cermak Health Services in the Cook County Jail via computerized access to the OMH patient roster. If the nonviolent felony charge is a probationable offense and defendants consent to request participation in the program, defendants will then undergo further assessment, and following arraignment, their cases will be assigned to the Mental Health Court call.

Ultimately by agreement among the Mental Health Court judge, defense attorneys and prosecutors, defendants will be offered the option to plead guilty and receive a sentence of probation. The terms of their sentences will include mandatory mental health services provided through OMH, and frequent status hearings before the Mental Health Court judge. They will also be linked to social service agencies for assistance with housing and employment.

The pilot program initially allows for 50 Cook County Jail new detainees who have received mental health services within the last 90 days from service providers located in OMH’s Metro West area which comprises Chicago’s west side and the western suburbs.

Chief Judge Evans praised Criminal Division Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. and the judges of the Criminal Division who will be implementing this innovative pilot program.

Presiding Judge Biebel noted that the Mental Health Court pilot program is targeting the higher risk defendant population in accepting nonviolent felony instead of misdemeanor defendants. Nor does the Cook County program divert defendants from prosecution as in other jurisdictions.

"While we recognize that mental illness is a crucial factor in these nonviolent felony cases, the defendants are nonetheless deemed fit to be held accountable for their criminal actions," said Presiding Judge Biebel. "The difference is that now the condition of these mentally ill defendants will be recognized at a much earlier point in the judicial process and that they will be linked to a unique array of treatment and social services and close court supervision not otherwise available to them," said Presiding Judge Biebel.

The Mental Health Court pilot program is coordinated through a variety of court-related agencies including the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney, the Office of the Cook County Public Defender, the Illinois Office of Mental Health, the service provider Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC), Cermak Health Services, a county facility located at the Cook County Department of Corrections that provides clinical services to detainees, and the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Adult Probation Department.

Supervision will be provided by the Mental Health Unit of the court’s Adult Probation Department, which is Medicaid certified and recognized as an innovative model for the supervision of mentally ill probationers and probationers with developmental disabilities.

Funding for the pilot program will be borne by TASC, which received grant funding, and the Illinois Department of Human Services. No additional court or county funds will be expended to operate the pilot program.

The Mental Health Court pilot program will start the week of May 3, 2004, in the court’s Criminal Division at 26th and California in Chicago. Judge Lawrence P. Fox and Judge Clayton Jay Crane serve as the Mental Health Court judges presiding over the dedicated court call to be held every Wednesday in rooms 504 and 201.