On October 28 and 29, 2010, the Council of State Governments Justice Center conducted technical assistance site visits to FY2010 Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) Planning Grant recipients in Illinois’s Macon and Logan counties. The counties are located in rural central Illinois, near Springfield. Staff met with key program personnel, community leaders, and stakeholders to learn more about challenges unique to rural jurisdictions, where appropriate resources can be scare or difficult to access. These counties have developed innovative strategies for overcoming rural challenges and translating limited resources into advantages.
On October 28, Justice Center staff spent the day in Decatur, IL. The group discussed Macon County’s JMHCP grant goal to design and implement a mental health court targeting individuals with DSM-IV Axis I disorders convicted of criminal offenses. After a speedy and successful planning period, the new court, overseen by Judge Kitty McCarthy, is now operational. It serves a county of approximately 108,000 residents; the majority of residents are located in Decatur.
Given this relatively small and sparse population, residents’ access to mental health services is limited. In spite of these resource restraints, personnel driving the Macon County JMHCP Mental Health Court planning process found a way to use their smaller community as an advantage. The key was to involve a significant number of partners—more than might otherwise be involved in areas with greater population densities—in order to pool resources and broaden participation. A total of thirty-seven government and community service agencies, mental health advocacy organizations, consumers, and family members participated, and more than sixteen community leaders played a regular role in the planning and implementation process. In a small town where the local leadership has formed tightly knit bonds, such collaboration was quickly embraced. The majority of these partners (75 percent) participated in planning; 60 percent of partners helped gather data to launch the initiative; and 20 percent of partners committed resources for long-term sustainability. Also, more than 150 people attended Macon County’s initial kick-off event: a banquet, where planners and community members asked questions and celebrated the inauguration of the new court. Many attendees continue to attend regular meetings to ensure that grant planners are meeting the goals as outlined from the inception. Macon County is now looking to expand the number of individuals receiving services and develop concrete strategies for sustainability.
On October 29, staff traveled to Lincoln, IL, to meet with leaders involved with the Logan County JMHCP planning grant. Like Macon, Logan County has a rural population with limited access to mental health services. Logan County has approximately 30,000 residents, with the highest concentration residing in the county seat (Lincoln). A shortage of service providers and few coordinated strategies for diverting people with mental illnesses out of the criminal justice system have made it difficult for country officials to connect people to appropriate services when necessary.
Logan County officials are using their JMHCP planning grant to address these challenges. Grant coordinator Kim Turner, director of the Logan County Probation Department, regularly convenes with state and local mental health officials and providers, local law enforcement, representatives of the local hospital, county judges, the state attorney’s office, and other interested parties. Their goal is to develop strategies to provide appropriate mental health care, as needed, for people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Not only has she been able to bring local leadership together, but service providers and community leaders from neighboring counties have been brought to the table to close existing gaps in planning and services.
Traditionally, the hospital, local mental health providers, police, and jail staff each used disparate strategies for responding to people with mental illnesses. Justice Center staff met with the larger planning group to help establish a template for a coordinated, strategic plan for connecting individuals with mental illnesses to appropriate services. As a result of this planning process, these local agencies are developing a coordinated plan for collaboratively addressing mental health needs and connecting people to local resources or to neighboring counties when necessary.
From these two site visits, a constant criterion for success common to both grantees was noted: despite a vast difference in available services and grant goals, both counties were united in the level of collaboration used to meet their targeted goals. Macon County and Logan County are keenly aware of both the strengths and limitations of their communities. Although both may lack the level of services present in larger and denser jurisdictions, both counties have identified unique strategies to overcome this obstacle by bringing a significant number of stakeholders to the table. Increased collaboration is, of course, a key element of a success for any criminal justice/mental health program, but it can be particularly effective in rural communities where resources are scarce.
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