New program aims to divert mentally ill from Lake County jail

In an effort to help mentally ill residents from repeatedly going in and out of jail, agencies in Lake County are teaming together to participate in the national Data-Driven Justice Initiative that will target low-level criminals with mental illness to help find them community-based care.

The initiative was launched by President Barack Obama Thursday and Lake County is among 67 city, county and state governments participating throughout the country.

Lake County Board member Sandra Hart and sheriff's Deputy Chief William Kinville visited the White House in June to share information and strategies with other counties.

With the cost to house an inmate in jail at $120 per day, Hart said it is expensive to have the same prisoners in and out of the jails. Out of 9,000 adults booked in 2014 and 2015, 42 percent were previously detained within the last three years.

"The goal of this initiative is to find our really familiar faces who are cycling through our criminal justice system and really take them out of that system and into the resources they really need," she said. "As you can imagine, a jail is not a place for people with serious mental illness."

She said she was at the jail learning about the booking process and saw a woman talking familiarly to someone entering the jail. She asked if the woman knew the man, and the woman jokingly said he has been in and out of the jail over 100 times. Hart said within one year, the jail had one individual go in and out 17 times.

"If you think about that and the implications in terms of the cost and the health care and taxpayer resources, the goal is how do we use data to find out who these individuals are who are already in our system and how do we better provide care for them to keep them out of the criminal justice system," she said.

Several agencies must team together to share information on these "familiar faces" to identify "super-utilizers." This includes sharing information between health care providers, law enforcement agencies, the court system and more, while protecting people's privacy, Hart said.

Once identified, the population must be diverted and instead linked with care management and community-based services. They will also use data-driven risk assessment tools to ensure decisions for pre-trial release is informed by gauging the defendant's risk to the community.

Lake County Sheriff's Office Undersheriff Ray Rose said the data initiative will be just one piece of the puzzle to helping solve the mental health crisis. The sheriff's office began using crisis intervention training last year, and is coordinating training for the sheriff's office, municipalities police departments, highway patrol deputies and court security officers.

He said no matter who a suspect is dealing with, officers should all have a similar approach and know how to intervene and interact with mentally ill. So far, 181 officers are trained in Lake County. Training was funded by the Lake County Board.

The sheriff's office has also created a mental health committee to examine the jail, and Rose said they realized a jail is not a mental health institution and they need to create a Lake County crisis center.

"When you look at repeat offenders, people with mental health are being included in those numbers so if we are able to get them treatment and give them medicine, they can continue to be productive members of society and be back at home and going to their jobs and they are not having problems," Rose said. "This is a good thing from jail's perspective because we don't want people with mental health issues in the jail. We are not a warehouse and that is what this has become. The jails are becoming the warehouse for mentally ill people."

Sheriff Mark Curran said 30 years ago, Illinois had several mental health treatment facilities, but eventually they all closed. This correlates with the jail population "going through the roof."

"So obviously, the difference is these people should be in the mental health institutions but instead they are going to jail for crimes," he said. "It is not a culpability as much as it is an illness causing them to act out."

Rose said this comes at a costly price too, as the top 10 medical using inmates are spending 48 percent of the total medical costs billed. From June 20, 2015 to April, 8 percent of inmates spent 48 percent of the total off-site medical costs.

In 2016, the total cost for medical services at the jail is estimated at $2.97 million.

Hart said the data initiative will have to be careful with privacy laws. They will need to share data with agencies such as the Lake County health department, private hospitals or clinics to see what the best resource is for the individual.

No timeline is currently in place for the initiative because it depends what information comes out of the data. They may find that they need to open a crisis center with a certain number of beds and provide supportive housing and new treatment centers, but they aren't sure yet until they can spot the individuals.

"The police officer on the street doesn't want to be arresting the same person over and over again and the people in the courts don't want to see the same people come through over and over again," she said. "Everyone is there doing their jobs to help people."

Twitter: @MeganAsh_Jones

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