Winnebago County Holds Second Public Safety Summit

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ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- One in six people in the Winnebago County jail suffer from either a mental illness or behavioral disorder like drug or alcohol abuse. Many of those people keep committing the same crimes over and over again, putting our safety at risk.

It's been one year since Logan Bell was shot and killed by police after his family says he stopped taking medication for his bipolar disorder. Since then Winnebago County's been looking at ways to help the mental health community to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"Sometimes it’s as simple as getting these peoples medications right, so those are the kinds of things we're talking about doing," Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen, said.

Dr. Patricia Griffin, a consultant from Philadelphia, is helping the county find ways to treat people with behavioral and mental health issues so they don't compromise our safety.

"You have tools you can bring to the table that you don't have with just a straight population of folks with just criminal charges or just a criminal history. Here you can bring treatment or supports," Griffin said.

Griffin says the county is off to a good start. Deputies are trained to recognize mental illness, and recidivism is down among graduates of the drug court and Therapeutic Intervention Program, but there's still room for improvement.

"Demand greater than capacity. That's probably one of our greatest challenges is how are we going to close that capacity gap," Rosecrance President Phil Eaton, said.

"The department of corrections needs to work with us so from the time they enter the department of corrections their reentry is already being planned," 17th Circuit Court Chief Judge Joe McGraw, said.

Griffin has a five part plan to intercept mental health patients in each of these areas:
1. Law Enforcement
2. Initial Detention/Initial Court Hearing
3. Jails/Courts
4. Reentry
5. Community Corrections

"It’s an area where you all have to be working together if you're going to make a difference for your community and decrease the involvement of folks with behavioral health problems in your criminal justice system," Griffin said.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Winnebago County continues its battle to knock out crime, turning the focus now to those suffering with mental illnesses and now that plays into our crime rate.

Mental health and our safety go hand in hand. According to County Chairman Scott Christiansen, 17% of people in our jail have some sort of mental illness. The problem is they get help when they’re in jail, but many times when they’re released, those people don’t have the resources to continue outside treatment, so they reoffend and end up back in jail.

So that was one of the main points at the public safety summit, how to help these people from re-offending again. Some suggestions include better recognition of individuals with mental health problems at their first court appearance so they can get the proper help. Also, helping prisoners get services lined up for after they leave jail.
“As more members of the criminal justice system have insurance, they’ll be able to access services hopefully because as they have insurance, hopefully the available market will increase and if they can get access to services, it will reduce recidivism,” said Chief Judge Joe McGraw.

After today’s summit, county leaders will come up with specific programs that can start almost immediately. After the last public safety summit, the county started the “Test A Tip” program and added more deputies to the Sheriff’s Department.

90% of deputies with the Sheriff’s Department have been through what’s called CIT training where they learn how to specifically respond to people with mental health problems. So when an issue comes up, police already know how to respond.

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