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Judge: ‘Changing Philosophies’ Ended Mental Health Court Program

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz says the recently ended mental-health court program should have been a way to help people avoid incarceration, not potentially face jail time. Circuit Judge Jeff Ford ended the progam last week over what he calls 'changing philosophies'.

Those start with his belief that clients could, as a last resort, be placed in jail until they agree to take their medication. 

Mental health court has served about 25 clients for the last two years.

But Ford said the disagreement with Rietz over the jailing of clients was the ‘straw the broke the camel’s back’.

“Sometime she’ll tell us to do one thing, and then she’ll change her mind a few weeks later," he said.  "She’s the chief law enforcement person in her county.  She directs who comes in and who goes out.  When she changes her philosophy, we have to go that way, but at this point, I cannot take money and say we’re in a mental health court when we truly are not following the best practices of a mental health court.”

Ford said the program has included at least one client that has gone to the county correctional center.

Rietz said the purpose for the program should be to link up those in the criminal justice system with mental health services.

“It is the responsibility and the purview of the mental health service providers to work with the clients to get them to comply with their treatment needs as opposed to forcing them to comply through incarceration.”

Ford says he and Reitz had other differences on operations of the mental health court, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Reitz said the program starts with initially referring someone in the justice system to Community Elements for an evaluation, then a diagnosis and treatment. But Rietz hoped another Champaign County judge would take up the program.

"I'm hopeful we can continue the conversation," she said.  "Our mental health providers have been meeting, and trying to create a protocol in writing so that we all understand the boundaries and goals of such a process."

Rietz said the Champaign County Mental Health Board will continue to fund positions with local service providers to help those in the criminal justice system, noting mental health is part of the discussion the Champaign County Board has been having on its jails and criminal justice system.

Ford calls running a mental health court with the ‘best practices’ a top priority for him - after a year of researching it, but said any plan to revive it should be run by him first. 

"I put this together," he said.  "I spent almost a year researching, talking to people, on how they're supposed to be run."

The seven clients currently in the program will still work with local agencies, including Community Elements, and Prairie Center Health Systems.

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