Mental health criminal justice reform

People with mental illness comprise at least 30% of jail and prison populations in the State of Illinois, presenting massive barriers for thousands of people to access necessary mental health care. Over the next 5 years, recidivism will cost Illinois over $16.7 billion if trends continue. Our program is an organizing initiative designed to dramatically reduce the percentage of mentally ill people who are incarcerated in favor of more effective treatment options. 


Our mental health criminal justice reform strategy began as local church and civic leaders across the region shared stories about the lack of mental health services and the very personal struggles of families seeking help for their loved one with mental illness. Across 4 counties, over 400 people participated in listening sessions or individual meetings. 

We learned from Judge Steven Leifman, Administrative Judge for Miami-Dade County Florida 11th Judicial Circuit and founder of the Criminal Mental Health Project whose project reduced the prison population in Miami-Dade County resulting in the closure of an entire section of the jail and the redirection of $12 million dollars to mental health care. 

Beginning in 2015, we further honed our mental health strategy locally, meeting with over 200 state and local government officials, mental health providers, lawyers, judges, state’s attorneys, police and hospitals. In October 2016, we hosted a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training conference with 100 key stakeholders across these sectors to share research and best practices and catalyze action. The following three-point strategy emerged: 

  1. Increase Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) de-escalation training for police

  2. Open Crisis Stabilization Units (CSUs) to encourage diversion from the criminal justice system and provide more effective treatment than emergency departments (EDs)

  3. Create affordable and supportive housing 


Over the last 4 years DuPage United has received commitments from State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and Sheriff James Mendrick to advance CIT at the county. At a March 10, 2019, assembly with 200 people Sheriff Mendrick from DuPage stated that because of the work of DU 75% of his staff is CIT trained. Because of the work of Metro IL IAF leaders DuPage, Kane, and Lake counties have trained over 1,100 officers since the fall of 2016. 

Step two is establishing CSUs. Meeting with dozens of providers and 8 hospital systems, we learned that the main barrier to CSUs is the lack of stable Medicaid reimbursements for providers. Sinai Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago has a CSU, but since December 2018 it has been shuttered due to the reduction of reimbursements from roughly $800 for 8 hours of service last year to $27 this past December. Restoring the reimbursement rate will incentivize the creation of CSUs.

On March 21, 2019, a small group of leaders from the 4 Metro IL IAF organizations met with Gov. J.B. Pritzker about CSUs. He responded by sharing his concern and a commitment to help correct the reimbursement rate by aligning us with Deputy Governor Sol Flores and Health and Family Services Director Theresa Eagleson. We met with them on April 25, along with 20 behavioral health providers from 4 systems, to layout the need, and they say that the rate will be fixed by July 1, 2019.

With the support of DuPage United the Fox River Valley Initiative in Kane County has received a commitment from Amita Presence Mercy in Aurora to open a Crisis Stabilization Unit next to the Emergency Department. We also helped leverage $1 million for capital costs. This hospital based CSU will serve cities surrounding Aurora in both Kane, DuPage, Kendall and DeKalb counties. 


  • Lucy Tarabour, Team Leader, 630-854-8003,