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Prison mental health costs rising

Wednesday, Aug 6, 2014

* We can expect more of this as long as our mental health care delivery system is so inadequate in this state

The cost of treating mentally ill prison inmates in Illinois is on the rise.

According to state purchasing documents and Illinois Department of Corrections projections, taxpayers will be billed more than $17.8 million in the coming year to convert existing prison space into facilities for examining, treating and housing seriously mentally ill prisoners.

That amount likely will rise with the anticipated hiring of what could be scores of additional workers to assist in the treatment of the inmates.

The increasing costs are an outgrowth of lawsuits filed against the department alleging inmates are not being properly treated for mental health issues, and against the backdrop of an under-manned agency that is housing 48,700 inmates in space built for 32,100.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Chris - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:05 pm:

    Serious question: Is this meaningfully different from *most* other states? Is there a (not tiny, like Vermont or Wyoming) state that has a system that Illinois should aspire to?

  2. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:06 pm:

    The recent reductions in mental health care were not a budget “cut” so much as a cost shift.

    We shifted the cost of caring for our most ill citizens from the health care system to the prison system.

    It is a despicable thing.

  3. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:07 pm:

    When was the last time one took a look at our prison population? This is not a surprise.

    Sadly, our biggest mental health facilities are our prisons. Inevitable.

    We closed down all our public mental health facilities. So, our jails now pick up and treat these same poor souls to get them off the streets.

  4. - Not Rich - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:10 pm:

    Sad, very sad..started under Blago, and continued and got much worse under Quinn.. Dangerous for the prison guards and so much more expensive on the back end.. Tom Dart has been trying to bring this issue forefront for over 2 years..

  5. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:22 pm:

    Yet we need to cut taxes and have smaller government?

  6. - PolPal56 - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:22 pm:

    It is disgusting that prisons have become defacto mental health facilities. Those poor people!

  7. - huh - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:28 pm:

    Wonder if this issue will be reviewed this summer and fall by Zalewski’s criminal reform committee.

  8. - Rob Roy - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:28 pm:

    If you really want to see defacto mental health problem look at the Juvenal Justus system, it is a very dangerous place to be and the staff has little if any protections from violent assaults almost daily that doesn’t make headlines.

  9. - A guy... - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:36 pm:

    On the priority list, this one will require more advocacy. If the big things are messed up, everything down the line is worse off. I don’t think you’ll see this issue on a single piece of campaign literature in any race anywhere in the state. You will however see plenty of people promising to expand this population. Very sad.

  10. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:40 pm:

    Even when times were much better, the community support system in Illinois was inadequate. After all the funding cuts, agencies have cut staff to skeleton crew level. That means people with mental illnesses who need support to stay on medications and keep their lives in order don’t get it. That results in symptoms coming back, poor decisions being made, and all kinds of acting out.

    You can pay to prevent or you can pay to hospitalize or incarcerate. Paying to prevent is usually less expensive.

  11. - Aldyth - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:41 pm:

    Oops. Anonymous at 12:40 PM was me.

  12. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:44 pm:

    Yet we need to cut taxes and have smaller government?

    Yes. It would require a redistribution of priorities. It would require not granting millions to watch it disappear into nothing. It would require fixing our bond costs.

    Quinn granted $54,500,000 to his political friends in one swoop. That would get us a nice start on a fix here if that money wasn’t wasted.

  13. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:44 pm:

    == Yet we need to cut taxes and have smaller government? ==

    Meanwhile, we have plenty of money for ornate chandeliers in the Capitol and $10 million for the privately owned Uptown Theatre.

    Just no money to build new mental health facilities, or keep the ones we already had up and running.

  14. - Amalia - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:51 pm:

    moving mentally ill out of facilities and into communities started way back during the Carter administration. this is not simply a case of not spending money on people in need. it is also because large groups of advocates insist that some mentally ill people should not be in facilities. not in a facility and not under care can equal a problem. and let’s not forget that if someone is a victim of a crime, whether the person who commits the crime is mentally ill or not, the victim still gets hurt. it’s bad all around.

  15. - CircularFiringSquad - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:52 pm:

    In many ways it is good these costs are rising people usually get nutty BEFORE the crimes are committed. In Eden we could hope for better mental health services in the non criminal world, but it has only been months since mental health has been recognized as health care…like a band aid or x-ray or 2 aspirins and call us in the morning. Funny how the guys running the prisons are smart enough to know that a little peek inside the noggin’ might keep the bandito out of the joint in the future. Same goes for drug treatment and post release care. We know this pretty radical especially for the lock ‘em whack jobs…but it can work

  16. - fed up - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    Another one of Pinnochio Quinn’s accomplishments. 20-30 years ago Quinn would be railling against this type of incompetence now he causes it.

  17. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:00 pm:

    @fed up:

    Care to explain how mentally ill prisoners are Quinn’s fault? It is beyond belief the garbage people spew in the name of politics. Attack somebody for legitimate things not this type of crap for which he has no control. It makes you look like nothing more than a complete partisan hack.

  18. - Jimbo - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:00 pm:

    The number of prisoners with mental health and substance abuse issues is startling. It really makes me wonder if we couldn’t significantly reduce crime with adequate public mental health treatment and substance abuse programs.

  19. - disibility - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    The real cost is when they are released they are eligible for $640 SS.disibility. So each and every released inmate who was treated for Mental Health issues, get $640 a month

  20. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    ==- Amalia - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 12:51 pm:==

    People are successful with medicine and treatment. When you undermine the community around them, close health centers, and cut their medicine, it’s no surprise they turn to crime, intentionally or not.

  21. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:08 pm:

    == Care to explain how mentally ill prisoners are Quinn’s fault? ==

    I do not personally blame just Quinn for this. I blame every single legislator in Springfield and anyone who has anything to do with enabling this situation.

    Regardless, @fed up may be referring to Governor Quinn’s decision to close certain mental health facilities despite opposition from the legislature and COGFA, whose vote in such situations is typically respected.

    That choice was purely Pat Quinn’s.

  22. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:10 pm:

    ===every released inmate who was treated for Mental Health issues, get $640 a month===


  23. - Dan Bureaucrat - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:11 pm:

    Quinn’s administration is the first to take a serious look at this crisis. Blago never dealt with it.

    Once people with mental illness have prison sentences, all we do is throw money into their incarceration, and make them worse off. We must change the system at and before the moment of police contact.

    But the IDOC has no choice who to take and how much it costs to treat them.

  24. - Jimbo - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:21 pm:

    FKA, I may be wrong here, but as far as I know the only Mental Health Center that was closed was Tinley (some time ago) and that was because it was beyond repair. The recent closures were Develpmental Centers for the disabled weren’t they?

  25. - Jimbo - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:30 pm:

    Okay looks like SInger Mental Health Center too. Not sure what the reason was there, but Tinley I know was beyond repair and had to be closed. I think recent projects at Reed and Madden were supposed to take the overflow.

  26. - Chris - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:42 pm:

    “The real cost is when they are released they are eligible for $640 SS.disibility.”

    That affects Illinois’ state budget, how???

  27. - fed up - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 1:48 pm:


    Quinn is the Gov of the State. I know you believe the buck stops over there but he is responsible. Who shut down the state mental Health Facilities?
    From a 2012 Northwestern Medill article.
    “By the end of last year, Illinois came in at No. 1 for mental health budget cuts, totaling more than 31 percent, said Hugh Brady, president of the Illinois board of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

    He added that these cuts, in combination with the additional 40 percent in cuts proposed by Quinn, would mean Illinois will have cut over 71 percent of its mental health budget in the past five years.

    So yes Quinn gets the blame.

  28. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 2:00 pm:

    do some of us not understand the difference between one time spending (ie, capital projects, etc) and “fixing the mental health system” (base spending)?

  29. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 2:18 pm:

    “do some of us not understand the difference between one time spending … and base spending? ”
    Steve has a point. While you point to NRI and the theatre as “wasteful”, I would also point to the Hillside strangler, extending the North/South tollway, the proposed Illiana expressway, high speed rail, a third airport etc as projects that could easily be cut and their millions put to “better” (meaning “something I like” of course) use. But even that’s irrelevant, because like Steve said, those are all one-time costs and often paid for by bonds (or the Feds).

    Hiring mental health workers is a long-term commitment, not just annual salary and benefits but that pesky pension thing too.

  30. - Amalia - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 2:37 pm:

    @ Precinct Captain, some of what you say is true. but I know too many people who decide to go off meds because the meds are working so they don’t think they need them anymore. and problems ensue at all sorts of levels. we should have facilities and help but we should not forget that when a crime occurs, whether or not the criminal has mental issues, that people get hurt. and that is a problem too.

  31. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 2:38 pm:

    steve does have a point, and it is a point that has been discussed at length here in previous posts during the years.

    There are important differences between infrastructure spending and operational spending, between a budget bill and a capital bill, behind general revenue funds and bonds.

    But ultimately, it all comes from a single funding source: taxpayer dollars. It comes down to a matter of making better choices and priorities.

    Whether we use that $10 million on a mental health center instead of giving it to a private theatre owned by wealthy individuals; or we simply do not borrow that $10 million in the first place to give to the theater; there are better choices that can be made on both the capital and operations sides of spending.

    And that is not any one specific person’s fault. Everyone shares the blame for that, including ourselves for electing the government we deserve no matter which party is in “control”.

  32. - throwing stones - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 2:56 pm:

    People do not come out of prizon and get $640.00 A month or every person with a disability entitlements, this is false. People have to apply, and a team of doctors determine eligibility. Do your homework, and you can find the disabilities that determines a person eligible. Try helping one of those in need, and then llet’s hear your opinion. With the right services, these individuals wouldent be on ss, and many would be productive members in your neiborhood.

  33. - Earnest - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 3:05 pm:

    A lot of this is unrelated to the issue of closing the state ops. There are people out there who don’t need intensive services, just some case management and help making sure they don’t run out of their meds. Without the meds some tend to self-medicate and end up with DUIs or drug-related arrests, and then to jail and prison over time. We can also add to the mix people with lower IQs who are either easily led or can’t understand what’s going on as they move through the legal system and end up with bad outcomes.

    It’s a small investment, but this population’s needs are very individualized and don’t match well with a Medicaid Waiver system with narrowly defined service eligibility and service definitions. These needs could (and are) met with a strong family support system, but not everyone has that.

  34. - RealChicagoHousewife - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 3:39 pm:

    The transition from mental hospitals to community mental health centers started because we started getting new medications that worked well enough to allow people with certain severe illnesses to function in society with assistance. The patients had a better quality of life and taxpayer expenses were less. One significant problem with this model though was that we didn’t keep enough beds available for the percentage of people who were not going to respond optimally to the treatment.
    Fast forward to around 2007-2008 and the community mental health centers had their budgets eviscerated. The front line workers who monitored the patients via home visits were the first to go. We knew the likely outcome would be the incarceration of these patients but were powerless to do much about it because politicians don’t care much about this population. But they need to because whereas before we could keep people stable and society safe through care and monitoring now, well not so much.

  35. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 3:57 pm:

    FKA, you don’t issue 30-year bonds to fund ongoing annual programs.

    And believe it or not, this difficult and complex problem would still be with us, NRI or not.

  36. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 8:31 pm:

    jimbo, don’t forget Zeller MHC in Peoria.

  37. - Tom Servo - Wednesday, Aug 6, 14 @ 8:45 pm:

    From one who knows:

    DOC rarely reports staff assaults because they changed the criteria therefor under Blago.

    The mainframe system Quinn blamed for his early-release fiasco under DOC director Randal is fine. Quinn’s office told Randal there weren’t enough inmates under the strict-release criteria to make a political difference, so the GO demanded Randal alter the criteria so as to provide significant numbers.

    The Microsoft-based solution to the mainframe issue was pushed through years ago with promises of its replacing the “antiquated” mainframe: Rollout dates have been continually pushed back for over four years, and it’s nowhere near completion.

    From someone who knows.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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