Illinois Launches Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice

On Thursday June 7th, the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice celebrated its official opening at the University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Rockford. The Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice will equip communities across the state to respond appropriately to the needs of people with behavioral health disorders who are involved in the criminal justice system. The Center of Excellence will provide technical assistance, resources, and training to improve justice system responses to individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders. Specifically, the Center of Excellence will contact counties and judicial circuits to provide evidence-based training; coordination and implementation assistance to create mental health courts, drug courts, and veterans’ courts; and alternatives to incarceration. The Center will also help train treatment providers to deal with the unique needs of individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

The Center was developed to respond to concerns that the criminal justice system’s traditional models of case processing have not proven adequate to handle the problems of individuals with serious mental health or substance use disorders. A 2009 study published in Psychiatric Services stated that an estimated 14.5% of male inmates and 31% of female inmates booked into local jails have a serious mental illness. Many jurisdictions do not have the information, training, and other resources necessary to implement effective diversions or interventions to address mentally ill or substance-dependent offenders.

To launch the Center’s opening, Jack Cutrone, the Executive Director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, was joined by Dr. Anderson Freeman, Deputy Director for Mental Health and Justice, Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Thomas; Justice Kathryn E. Zenoff, Second District Appellate Court and Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Special Judicial Advisory Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning; Chairman Scott Christiansen, Winnebago County Board; and Dr. Martin Lipsky, Regional Dean, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. According to Justice Zenoff, “Courts need innovative alternatives and the knowledge and training of newer therapeutic approaches to more effectively address these populations in their jurisdictions. The Center of Excellence is a major transformation initiative that can positively impact the ability of communities throughout Illinois to slow the revolving door to our jails and prisons for persons with serious mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders. It can help improve public safety and minimize wasteful acute care spending.”

The Center was formed in a unique intergovernmental collaboration that included the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA), Winnebago County, and the Illinois Department of Human Services, with assistance from key members of the state judiciary and the University of Illinois.