Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects
In many post-conflict and fragile countries there are populations which suffer from trauma and mental health concerns, yet it is difficult to find reports evaluating how legal programs work with trauma victims (and whether it’s done in line with cultural norms.) It can be all too common for the mentally ill people to be sent to prisons because there is no infrastructure to care for them. Today, while many legal aid programs make psychosocial counseling services available, it was exciting to come across a new initiative in the US to create a pilot mental health clinic at the courthouse and another mental health center near the jail.
Cook County Jail (in Illinois) is described by some as the largest mental health center in the nation. It is believed that 25-35% of the 9,000 inmates suffer from serious mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. One spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s office commented “when mentally ill individuals have nowhere to go for treatment, the odds of them going off their medication and committing low-level crimes of survival jumps exponentially.” After recently hiring a clinical psychologist to be the new executive director of the jail, Cook County’s Sheriff took steps to open a pilot mental health clinic and diversion program at one of the courthouses.
Below are a few excerpts from the Chicago Tribune on the program:
“The program targets individuals charged with misdemeanors in an effort to get them into treatment and keep them out of the criminal justice system in the future. Before they arrive in court for a bond hearing, the prisoners are taken from the courthouse basement’s lockup to the interview room.
If the people doing the mental health screenings find the prisoners may have a problem, a judge will sentence them to mandatory mental health counseling which will begin that very day elsewhere in the courthouse. They are released on their own recognizance back to their homes and communities without having to post bond, instead of having to sit in jail.”
The clinic would be staffed by psychology students who are supervised by licensed psychologists. The pilot mental health clinic stems from the sheriff’s Mental Health Transition Center, which was also recently launched last year and sits near the Jail. The transition center is the first in the country to provide counseling, job skills training, and post-release planning for inmates with mental health concerns.
A recent interview with the new executive director of the jail also indicated promising results coming from the mental health transition center. When asked whether she was seeing a turnaround in the number of people returning to jail, Nneka Jones Tapia commented “of those that are participating in the mental health treatment center, absolutely. So we have had about 40 detainees that have been released that have gone through our program. And out of that 40, about a third of them are pursuing education, which they started here, and the remainder of them are gainfully employed. And what we found is that the support system that we give individuals while they’re in custody can’t stop when they’re released.”