Will County launches Mental Health Court to help qualifying defendants manage their psychiatric conditions

April 28

JOLIET – Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and Chief Judge Gerald Kinney announce the formation of a new Mental Health Court that is designed to provide judicial monitoring and critical treatment services to qualifying criminal defendants who suffer from mental illnesses.

The Mental Health Court call was convened for the first time at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27 in Courtroom 308. Circuit Judge Sarah Jones will preside over Mental Health Court. Julie McCabe-Sterr of the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office will serve as the program coordinator. Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Woods will serve as the prosecutor on the call.

The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chief Judge’s Office partnered with the Will County Sheriff’s Department, the Will County Health Department, the Center for Correctional Concerns and the Will County Public Defender’s Office to establish Will County’s Mental Health Court.

During its first session, the Mental Health Court team agreed to evaluate 10 prospective candidates for possible participation in the program. Candidates must be diagnosed as having a mental disorder or a co-occurring disorder, the latter of which is a mental illness combined with and an addiction.

The mission of the Mental Health Court is to establish a court team that closely monitors qualifying criminal defendants while providing them with comprehensive mental health services. The intensive program, which is voluntary, includes mandatory drug testing, sanctions, incentives and professional support to keep defendants on track.

Participation in Mental Health Court will help defendants manage their psychiatric conditions and enable them to function as law-abiding citizens. The team will assist participants in understanding how managing their condition can keep them from engaging in criminal activity and eliminate their negative contacts with local police. The process also will involve improving their relationships with family members and friends who can provide them with important support.

Each defendant will be carefully screened before being admitted to Mental Health Court. Anyone who has been convicted of or charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, a sex offense, armed robbery, arson, kidnapping, stalking or any offense involving the discharge of a firearm will be barred from participation. Defendants charged with other crimes may not be allowed to participate depending upon the unique circumstances of their individual cases.

“Our most important objectives are to protect the community and to seek justice by holding offenders accountable. That’s why we want to make certain in advance that every participant will benefit from the comprehensive services provided through this program,” said State’s Attorney Glasgow. “The entire community, however, benefits when those who suffer from mental illnesses learn to manage their conditions so they can function in society by holding down jobs, pursuing educations and paying taxes. For every dollar we spend on a prevention program where we deal with the root causes of crime, we save $10 to $20 in remedial costs.”

Judge Kinney said: “The Mental Health Court concept is a very important one. It allows us to identify and treat individuals whose primary causes of being within the criminal justice system are their mental health issues. We can identify resources that will assist them and keep them from re-offending. I know Judge Sarah Jones and the Mental Health Court staff will do an excellent job in their efforts and that this program will be a benefit to the community.”

Mental Health Courts were inspired by the success of other problem-solving courts, including Drug Courts and Domestic Violence Courts. The first Mental Health Court began in 1997; today eight have opened in Illinois and more than 200 are operating across the United States.