- Associated Press - Monday, November 10, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois prison system will add four mental-health treatment units and 350 clinical-staff employees to improve circumstances for inmates who are mentally ill, according to a plan made in response to a federal lawsuit.

The Department of Corrections submitted a plan last month to the U.S. District Court in Peoria to provide more than 1,200 beds for mentally ill inmates, including renovating the Dixon, Pontiac and Logan correctional centers and reopening the shuttered Joliet youth prison, The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported (https://bit.ly/1zF6dVx ).

At a September hearing, lawyers for a group of inmates sought an explanation about the state’s progress in treating mentally ill convicts, care that is guaranteed by the state Constitution. The need for the fixes was revealed after a court-appointed monitor reported that segregated cells were used as a substitute for mental health treatment for more than 600 inmates.

The monitor’s report also said the state had not made adequate progress on improvements directed in a May 2013 court order.

“This department continues to do considerable work in these proceedings and in this area,” Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer told the newspaper.

Chicago lawyer Alan Mills, who represents some of the inmates in the lawsuit, addressed the agency’s plan.

“We remain hopeful that the department will agree to make significant changes, including additional hiring and space allocations, which will improve the care provided to thousands of people with mental illness confined in our prisons,” he said. “However, we also remain disappointed with the pace of the change to date.”

State officials have acknowledged that the prisons must provide more proper spaces for inmates with mental health problems.

In the meantime, the Department of Human Services will provide 10 beds at Chester Mental Health Center in southern Illinois, which requires hiring two psychiatrists and a psychologist.

Looking toward long-term solutions, Corrections plans to build or renovate a facility of its own, involving “extensive construction and staffing efforts,” an agency court filing said. Officials estimate they will spend $62 million annually for 352 clinical workers and 200 security staff members.

The department has also had discussions with three Chicago area hospitals about the possibility of housing inmates at outside facilities.


Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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