YORKVILLE – About a decade after talks about it began, Kendall County officials are saying it's time for the county to have a mental health court.
Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis said during the County Board regular meeting Tuesday, June 18 at the Kendall County office building, 111 W. Fox St., that he wanted to bring up the matter again because of several related court cases he has been coming across. He said the matter isn't meant to be taken as a partisan thing, but it's just the reality of what his office has been seeing within the county.
"It’s time that Kendall County gets a mental health court," Weis said.
Weis said the county approved funding for its drug court in 2015, which was effective for 2016. He said the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts certified the county's program in November 2016 and the program had its first official participant in February 2017. Now that the county got through the infancy of the drug court, he said, it's time to move on to getting mental health court started after he started talking about it around 2008.
Weis said the county's drug court has diverted people who would normally end up in the state Department of Corrections into treatment programs to get the help they need. He said the goal is for those people to complete the program and for his office to never see them again, but the county wouldn't be losing anything with those who don’t complete the program winding up in prison anyway, either.
Weis said he would want to see something similar for mental health court in the county. But, he said, the bottom line is that he knows it costs money for a county to start a mental health court and he wanted to start the conversation up again as county officials gear up for budget season.
Weis said it would be cheaper than the cost of incarcerating people with mental illnesses, but it's not going to be $1,000 or a small office somewhere in the county.
"You're going to be looking at a six-figure number," Weis said.
County Board member Robyn Vickers, who represents District 2, said she is thrilled about Weis bringing up the topic again because getting a mental health court in the county was one of the things she wants to see accomplished as a board member. She said she used to serve on the board for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, for Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties and knows that NAMI helps to financially support this kind of thing.
Vickers said county law enforcement officers do crisis intervention training now. She said police are educated in how to approach someone that might look violent and might not be cooperating, paying attention or being respectful, when there really might just be a mental illness or a developmental delay.
"But now it’s time to bring it to the court side so that [people with mental illness are] not suffering," Vickers said. "Honestly, they suffer in jail."
County Board member Tony Giles, who also represents District 2, said he thinks the idea is a fantastic one and that it would be a good way to cut down on recidivism. He said he could see it being particularly helpful for a person with bipolar who needs treatment and medication but may be writing bad checks all over the county, for example.
"So if we can get them the treatment they need, taking those steps, I think, is incredibly important," Giles said.
County Board member Audra Hendrix, who represents District 1, said mental health is involuntary and that she cannot think of anything more terrifying than anyone losing control of their mind. She said she is happy the topic has been brought up and that she has commented about this in the past in regards to the health department and mental health services they provide and why the health department is important to the county.
“So I hope that we will remember that at budget time, as well as not task them with this and not giving them the proper funds to do it,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix said a court situation would be helpful for someone with issues linked to bipolar disorder in particular, for example, because it's difficult to get those patients to keep taking their medications on their own.
“So sometimes a legal intervention is required just to get them to do what they should be doing voluntarily,” Hendrix said.
Weis said the types of cases he has been seeing making their way through the system lately include people being charged with relatively minor and non-violent crimes but may have severe mental health problems. When that happens, he said, the two alternatives are that those people can be released back into the public or they can be housed at the county jail.
"It’s not a good alternative," Weis said about the latter option. "It’s not what I’m recommending that we do with these people."
Either way, Weis said, those people are not getting the treatment they need and there is no way to order treatment or medicate them even if they are released back into the public.
Weis said it's no one’s fault on the board and he doesn't mean to place blame on anybody or to present the issue in an accusatory way. He said his main point is that the county has gone on long enough without a mental health court and it's something that could benefit the entire county.
“It’s time that Kendall County addresses these issues,” Weis said.
Kendall County Board Chairman Scott Gryder said the subject matter soon will be heading to law and justice and legislative committee for further discussion. He said it will then be sent to finance committee to determine how the program could be funded.
“It sounds like an opportunity for us to get those that have mental health issues the treatment that they need, as opposed to just locking them up with no hope for the future,” Gryder said.