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Cost to Treat Mental Illness in Prisons Rising

Updated: Thursday, August 7 2014, 03:40 PM CDT

ILLINOIS -- Illinois taxpayers are footing the bill for some big changes to the state's prison system.  Newschannel at Nine's Rebekah Thurston brings us a look into where exactly your money's going.

Almost one in four of all Illinois inmates are receiving some sort of mental health care.  There's currently multiple pending lawsuits alleging the state isn't providing mentally-ill inmates with the treatment they need.  That has the state taking action, but they need your help, specifically your taxpayer dollars, to do it.

Nearly 18 million dollars.  Your tax dollars are being used to pay for changes in the Illinois prison system.

"The Department of Corrections is required to look at how we treat mentally-ill inmates, how we classify them, and that has resulted in a greater focus on Seriously Mentally-Ill inmates, SMI, and additional facilities are needed to care for them," said Department of Corrections Spokesperson Tom Shaer.

Those facilities will be in Joliet and Pontiac.  The funds will go towards revamping the buildings, but now additional funds are needed to hire more staff and officers.

The state says this is their legal obligation.

"These are not changes where the Department of Corrections is seeking to spend more money. These are changes we are required to make be law," said Shaer.

But others claim it's just the consequences of the state's poor money management.

"The state has inadequately invested in community-based mental healthcare, which has led to situations (that) we have here where the state is spending more and more resources to serve somebody with a mental illness in a prison system, when perhaps, if some recovery-based treatments were provided to an individual earlier on, we could have avoided some of the long term costs," said Josh Evans, Vice President of Government Relations for Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.

The Department of Human Services estimates it costs about $2200 to provide treatment for an SMI individual in the community, versus $22,000 for years of treatment in the prison system.

"If we're going to avoid this arch where more and more individuals with SMI's are incarcerated, we need to be putting our dollars into evidence-based treatments on the front end in the community," said Evans.

The Department of Corrections says varying degrees of changes are already underway at both correctional centers. They anticipate Pontiac Correctional Center will be finished up next Spring and bidding for the work at Joliet will begin in December.

Cost to Treat Mental Illness in Prisons Rising

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