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14 Ways To Keep Youth With Mental Health Conditions Out Of Jail

SPRINGFIELD, IL - A state task force has delivered a final report recommending 14 action steps to deliver needed services and help keep youth with mental health conditions out of jails and prisons.

"Of the nearly 30,000 youth arrests and 11,000 youth admissions to local jails in Illinois each year, research consistently suggests that approximately 70 percent meet the diagnostic criteria for having a mental health condition, and at least 20 percent live with serious mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, and other conditions that severely impair their ability to function," according to the report by the Illinois Mental Health Opportunities for Youth Diversion Task Force.

"Frequently, a youth's disruptive or illegal behavior is related to symptoms of a mental health condition that has gone undetected and untreated," the report states. "Instead of treating these instances as an opportunity to connect these youth to effective community-based mental health services they are too often directed toward law enforcement. These youth - the majority who have lives already marred by racism, poverty, and violence - then cycle through jails, probation offices, courts, and prisons. The opportunity to divert youth early is wasted, and youth end up in a system that is ill-equipped to provide the necessary treatment."

The task force recommended made the following recommendations:


The state should:

1. Improve mental health screenings for early identification of youth at risk of mental health conditions.

2. Invest in early intervention for serious mental health conditions and maximize Medicaid and private insurance benefits.

3. Expand screening and provide adequate funding for the Illinois Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services program, which is a statewide network of well-qualified professionals responding 24/7 to youth and families in crisis.

4. Provide training to help community members recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and identify resources for services and treatment.


The state should:

5. Encourage training and expanded use of Crisis Intervention Teams to improve the outcomes of interactions between law enforcement and individuals living with mental illness.

6. Implement a diversion program that avoids the use of arrests for misdemeanor offenses committed by youth living with mental health conditions.

7. Help implement best-practices to assess the mental health of youth at arrest.

8. Create a pilot project to evaluate effectiveness of police releasing youth through "station adjustments" as an alternative to referring the case to juvenile court.


9. Illinois should expand the use of juvenile mental health courts to connect more youth with support services and appropriate treatment.


To help youth returning from prison succeed, the state should:

10. Restore funding for the Mental Health Juvenile Justice Program, which contracts with community mental health agencies to provide services to improve the clinical condition of those youth.

11. Ensure eligible returning youth are enrolled in Medicaid before their release.

12. Make certain there is no interruption in services and needed medication after release.

13. Make certain returning youth avoid homelessness by helping them secure housing and income upon release.

14. Develop a case management system to track not just recidivism rates but also data that would inform taxpayers about whether their dollars are protecting public safety and helping youth become crime-free and productive adults.

Created by state statute in 2017, the task force was charged with developing an action plan for new or expanded diversion programs aimed at you living with mental health conditions in Illinois. Task force members include state legislators and representatives of law enforcement and mental health service providers.


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 7, 2018

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