The Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice is a statewide entity working to equip communities to appropriately respond to the needs of persons with behavioral health disorders who are involved with the criminal justice system.

Based in Rockford and serving all Illinois counties, the Center of Excellence promotes, coordinates, and provides training to communities looking to implement best practices including jail diversion programs and problem-solving courts for mentally ill and/or substance abusing offenders.

The Center of Excellence is housed at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford, with training access at other University of Illinois sites in Chicago, Peoria, Springfield, and Urbana/Champaign.

Our Vision

The vision for the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice is that persons involved with the criminal justice system are addressed in the way that best improves health, promotes recovery and enhances public safety.

Our Mission

The mission of the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice is to equip communities to appropriately respond to the needs of persons with behavioral health disorders who are involved with the criminal justice system. To accomplish that mission, the Center of Excellence will provide technical assistance, training, and resources to improve systemic responses for persons with mental health and/or substance use disorders who are involved with the criminal justice system.

Our History

In April 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court named a Special Judicial Advisory Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning. The committee was charged with determining how to maximize court and community resources to aid in the rehabilitation and treatment of alleged offenders with mental health and substance use issues. The Advisory Committee studied, reviewed, and collaborated on issues and matters related to mental illness, substance use, and the criminal justice system to make recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In December 2010, a multidisciplinary group of stakeholders convened to oversee planning and program development, including representatives from the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), Mental Health Court Association of Illinois, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, and members of the Special Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Justice and Mental Health Planning to discuss the purpose and feasibility of a Center of Excellence in Illinois. Together they determined the mission, structure, and purpose of the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice.

The Problem of Mental Illness

The nation’s local jails have increasingly become the place of last resort for the mentally ill. Beginning in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, individuals with mental illness were released from state-run hospitals without alternative placement. Many of these individuals subsequently have committed repeat non-violent crimes, resulting in incarceration, release from jail, and repeat offense and arrest – a cycle of recidivism. By default, jails in many communities have become the primary source of care for the mentally ill, a function for which they are neither equipped nor designed to handle. While the factors contributing to this problem are complicated, the over-representation of people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system has been well documented.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental illness.1
  • It is estimated that 14.5% of male inmates and 31% of female inmates in local jails have a serious mental illness.2
  • Chicago’s Cook County Jail, Los Angeles County Jail or New York’s Riker’s Island house more severely mentally ill individuals than the largest psychiatric hospital.3
  • Seventy-six percent of local jail inmates are dependent on or abusing substances.4
  • The criminal justice system is the largest single source of referrals to the substance use treatment system.5

The criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with persons with mental illnesses or other behavioral disorders. The result is that persons with behavioral health disorders, such as mental illness or substance use, spend more time in jail while the criminal justice system tries to figure out how to manage them. This current state of affairs, is not only inhumane, it is also extremely expensive. The criminal justice system stakeholders understand the need for alternatives to incarceration for persons with mental health and substance use disorders such as diversion programs and problem-solving courts.

Many jurisdictions are poorly resourced, do not have the information necessary to implement these interventions, and lack the resources to engage in system change without external technical assistance. Without adequate treatment while incarcerated or linkage to community services upon release, many people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders may cycle repeatedly through the justice system. This frequent involvement with the criminal justice system can be devastating for these individuals and their families and can also impact public safety and government spending. In response, jurisdictions have begun to explore a number of ways to address criminal justice/behavioral health disorders, including problem-solving courts.

Our Strategy

The Center of Excellence targets law enforcement, judges, courts, policy makers, consumers, families, and treatment providers, providing technical assistance, resources, and training to improve systemic responses to those with mental health and/or substance use disorders and are also involved with the criminal justice system.

The Sequential Intercept Model for Developing Criminal Justice and Mental Health Partnerships, developed by Mark Munetz, M.D., and Patricia Griffin, Ph.D.,6 is being utilized by the Center of Excellence as a conceptual framework for communities to identify potential strategies for linking individuals in need of treatment at each decision point, or “intercept” within the criminal justice system. The Center of Excellence focuses on all of the intercepts of community services, law enforcement, initial detention/initial court hearings, jails/courts, reentry, and community corrections to research and disseminate information about evidence-based practices, and to provide services including but not limited to training and technical assistance for problem-solving courts or other diversion models around the state.

The Center of Excellence contacts counties and judicial circuits to provide evidence-based training, coordination, and implementation assistance to create mental health courts, drug courts, and veteran’s courts, and offer alternatives to incarceration. The Center of Excellence also assists in training treatment providers to work with the unique needs of these offenders.

Our Successes

The Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice has been in operation since April 2012. The first 6 months were dedicated to reviewing the strategic planning, the statewide mapping, evidence-based practices and to developing training plans.

Since opening, the Center of Excellence has provided training to persons from all 102 Illinois counties. Since 2014, the Center of Excellence website has had over 9,500 unique and new visits. Since 2013, over 10,360 people have attended Center of Excellence trainings. From October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017, the Center of Excellence provided 52 trainings or technical assistance events, engaged over 2,180 attendees, had 334 requests for training, had 170 contacts for information, and provided over 610 people with over 4,900 hours of continuing education credits.

Courts use knowledge and evidence-based practices gained from Center of Excellence trainings to divert person with behavioral health disorders from jail and prison. In a snapshot from 2017, four individual problem-solving courts diverted 161 people from prison for an estimated cost savings of $3,059,000.7 All of the problem-solving courts received training and technical assistance from the Center of Excellence.