Illinois sheriffs criticize law that alters care for criminals unfit to stand trial

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a measure that would change guidelines for how defendants who are unfit to stand trial are placed in proper care. The measure, however, is being criticized by the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association.

House Bill 240, now law, removes the 20-day requirement to transfer criminal defendants deemed unfit for trial from county jails to to Department of Human Services facilities and protects the state from future legal action from law enforcement agencies over failure to place an inmate in proper care.

The provision is included in a larger bill that modifies various areas of public health policies.

State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, said large bills like HB240 usually include an unfavorable provision, such as removing the placing requirement.

“The problem with bills this large is sometimes there is a massive, horrific poison pill that is put in,” McClure said during the lame-duck session. “This is that poison pill.”

Jim Kaitschuk, executive director for the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, said this creates more problems for agencies already dealing with a surplus of inmates with mental health issues.

“We have a growing mental health crisis across the state and across the country, and in fact, many of the people who are in our custody right now have mental health issues and have been referred to try and get treatment for that,” Kaitschuk said. “This provision takes it to a whole other level of putting these folks in a 20-day requirement to now 60 days that they will have to be in county jails.”

Kaitschuk said that placing these defendants in proper care settings has been an issue for Illinois for quite some time.

“This is not a new issue, but it’s been exasperated by the past several years,” Kaitschuk said. “[Department of Human Services] has not been abiding by that requirement in terms of getting people to those facilities in a timely basis.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, said during debate that HB240 could provide some opportunities for DHS to free up beds in psychiatric hospitals for jail inmates but said more steps need to be taken.

“With regard to trying to solve all of the mental health crises, nobody in this room disagrees that we have a mental health crisis we need to solve, but we can’t let perfection be the enemy of the good,” Gillespie said.

The bill was signed into law by Pritzker earlier this month.

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