Champaign County stepping up to reduce mental illnesses in jail

The county adapted the initiative back in 2015 and this year, it was named an innovator county for their work. (WCCU)

Champaign County officials are "stepping up" to help reduce the number of inmates with mental illnesses

The county adapted the initiative in 2015 and this year, they were named an innovator county for their work.

They were one of the first jails to track and collect the number of people with serious mental illnesses coming in and out of jail daily.

Champaign County Chief Deputy Sheriff Allen Jones use to work in the county jail.

He said he would see the same people coming in and out for non-violent crimes—many of them suffering from mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders.

“It has a huge impact both on that person, on the officers that are dealing with those people, on the families of the individuals, of the criminal justice system, so to find some way to break that cycle," Jones said.

To break the cycle, the county started screening inmates for mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders. If they screen positive, they meet with a case worker to find help. That data is then shared locally.

“About 65 to 70 percent of the people who repeat bookings at the jail are already clients of the local behavioral health system," Jones said.

Champaign County Mental Health Board Director Lynn Canfield said it's important to then connect those people with treatments.

“The mental health board is really focused to create or support the community’s behavioral health system so people have a place to go other than jail,” Canfield said.

So, by keeping track of the inmates, Jones said the county can help bridge that gap where before, there was a disconnect.

“We hope we create an opportunity to have an impact there and to break that cycle, whether it’s a crime or however it is that they keep getting arrested," Jones said.

Canfield said at the end of the day, it is about setting people up for success.

“It is all of our responsibility to make sure that people get the things that they need to be successful because they are our neighbors," she said.

The next step for the county, is to apply for a grant so they can pair mental health experts with first responders. That way it's not the officers deciding to either send someone to the hospital or jail.

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