This week the Winnebago County Courthouse took a bold step. It became one of only two courts in Illinois to offer a separate court for people suffering from a mental illness.
Thanks to a one percent tax increase voters passed in 2002 the mental health court is becoming a reality.
The new court will serve 50 people and could expand from there.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who have come to through the court who I think would benefit from the program, so I don't think it will be long before our case loads grow," says Winnebago County Circuit Court Chief Judge Kathryn Zenoff.
To be eligible, a person must undergo screening. If they're declared mentally ill and have only committed a misdemeanor they can volunteer to enter the mental health court. Once they're in the program they will attend court hearings once or twice a week.
One of the main goals of the mental health court is to keep people from re-entering the court system by offering them improved access to treatment services.
“When treated there’s a real possibility of recovery and participation and living successfully in the community and working and contributing," says Frank Ware, Executive Director for Janet Wattles.
The mental health court is expected to not only help the mentally ill, but make the county safer for everyone by increasing public security and helping treat the problem. The court will hold its first session on Tuesday.