By Edith Brady-Lunny
BLOOMINGTON — For almost 40 percent of the mentally ill inmates who are booked into the McLean County jail, time behind bars has been a recurring experience.
The recidivism data was provided to the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council on Thursday by Frank Beck of Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development.
Multiple bookings into the jail have been the case for 39 percent of mentally ill inmates between January 2007 and September 2013, according to the data. One person has logged 31 bookings into the jail.
Less than half of the bookings involving mentally ill people were felonies, said Beck.
Recent studies by Beck show a steady increase over the past five years in the number of people with a mental illness who have entered the jail. The trend follows deep cuts in state funding and closure of public facilities that provided care for severely mentally ill people.
McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said he is troubled by the return rate for mentally ill people to the jail.
“I don’t know how anyone could be satisfied with that number. Thirty-nine percent recidivism shows the depth of the problem,” said Emery.
Beck’s findings also show that inmates with behavioral issues have spent an average of 15 more days in jail in 2013 than in 2008.
An estimated 28 percent of those on the jail’s roster are receiving mental health care. In 2013, the average daily census for the jail is 238 inmates.
The new statistics and a recently released report from the National Institute of Corrections confirm the revolving door of incarceration for people with mental health issues, said Emery. The report lays out three options for a mental health unit that would move disabled inmates from the booking area to a more appropriate and specialized area.
“The NIC report verifies what we see: The jail is being overpopulated with people with mental illness and we don’t provide adequate housing for those inmates,” Emery told the council.
The status of community mental health services and the impact those services have on the criminal justice system will be reviewed by a new advisory panel to the County Board, County Administrator Bill Wasson told the council. The County Board will begin the process of reviewing the NIC report in November.