Will County seeks alternatives to jail

To reduce jail time for offenders who suffer with mental illness or are non-violent, Will County officials are exploring a number of options.
In an effort to reduce the number of incarcerated people with mental illnesses, Will County plans to participate in a “Stepping Up” initiative with the National Association of Counties (NACO), part of a national program to address this issue.
The county board’s judicial committee passed a resolution at its Tuesday meeting, which noted that adults with mental illness tend to stay longer in jail, have a higher risk of recidivism, and 75 percent also have substance abuse disorders.
The county has had some success by referring people to its drug and mental health court programs, which tries to keep them out of jail by voluntarily participating in treatment programs.

The Stepping Up initiative will allow the county to share information and resources with other counties, it was noted.
Through this program, the county will be able to:
•Draw on leaders from multiple agencies who are committed to safely reducing the number of people with mental illness in jails.
•Assess individual needs to better identify adults as they enter jail.
•Determine what services and programs are available and identify policy and funding barriers.
•Develop a plan with measurable outcomes.
•Implement research-based approaches.

•Create a process to track and report on progress.
To help reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the jail, judicial committee chairman Darren Bennefield, R-Aurora, said he plans to invite firms that supply monitoring bracelets to non-violent offenders to the July meeting, and talk to officials at other jails that have implemented this technology.
Officials said they need to know the cost of a monitoring program, establish criteria for who would qualify, and determine how many current inmates would be eligible.
Warden Brad Josephson said it now costs $97 per day to house an inmate. He told the committee that offenders pay for bracelets and the company provides monitoring.
The county sheriff would receive an alarm alert if there was a problem, and would send a deputy to investigate.
“There are numerous false alarms,” he said.
Board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Township, said keeping people in jail comes at a cost to society, if they lose their jobs, require public assistance, or turn to crime.
Board members said the monitoring program should result in a significant savings to the county, and not require additional personnel.
In a related matter, it was announced that the county will receive an allocation of $335,500 from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC), to enhance the services of its specialty courts, for drug offenders, veterans and those offenders with mental illnesses.