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Discussion aims to build support for mental health program

Program would offer treatment to those with mental illnesses

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 8:17 a.m. CDT

The Morris Rotary Club is hosting a roundtable discussion to get community support behind a Treatment Alternative Court for people with mental health problems.

“Rotary is a club that wants to pay things forward,” Morris Rotary President John Carr said. “We try to identify a need. We cannot always fund it, but we can give it a voice.”

A need in the community now is help for those with mental illness, he said. So the club has invited numerous professionals to its regular meeting Tuesday, March 19, to have a discussion on what is available and what is needed.

The meeting is open and free to the public. It starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, and will be held at Chapin’s restaurant, 701 Liberty St., Morris. Refreshments will be served. The club requests people call ahead to reserve a spot at (815) 274-2131.

The panel of speakers includes Judge Lance Peterson; Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland; Ginny Kelly, vice president of planning and development at Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers; Liz Thrun, social worker at Morris Hospital; and Michelle Briones, second vice president of National Alliance on Mental Illness Will-Grundy.

“Rotary sees its role as community involvement, and one of the initiatives of Rotary as it evolves is networking with other organizations,” said Vice President Jim Bianchetta.

By connecting with other organizations, Bianchetta said they can combine resources for the betterment of the community.

In 2010, Judge Peterson spoke to the Morris club about a grant possibility to start a Treatment Alternative Court, or mental health court, to provide treatment rather than punishment for the mentally ill who end up in the justice system.

Many times those with untreated illnesses are in the justice system because their illness drives them to make bad decisions or creating incidents that get them in legal trouble.

“They are not going to stop committing crimes or acting in non-social ways if we just bring them to court, prosecute, and either send them to jail or fine them. They are going to be back with certainty,” he said.

A specialized court system for these cases would give the justice system the tools and resources to help these people get treatment for their mental illness and reduce the chances of them ending up back before a judge.

In 2010, the grant for this court was denied.

After recently following up with Peterson, Carr learned the grant was going to be applied for again. The grant is applied for through the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, said Peterson. In 2010, they were trying for $50,000.

“We are trying to really beef up the effort, get the community involved and resources built up to apply for the 2014 fiscal year,” said Peterson.

How much will be requested this time is not yet known.

This type of alternative court will help people with untreated mental illness, and the community as a whole.

“With this small investment, it helps prevent greater costs to the taxpayers down the line because we won’t have incarceration costs and prosecution costs (for those mentally ill in the system),” said Peterson.

This alternative court is similar to the county’s drug court, which has been in effect since about 2003. The goal of drug court is to get people off drugs and make them productive members of society.

The drug court criteria mandates a defendant be at least 17 years old, have no more than two prior felony charges and must be a member of the Grundy County community. The case also cannot be a violent crime.

If mental health court develops, somes cases would cross with drug court for those people who have both drug and mental illness problems, said Peterson. The new alternative court would also help with treatment of veterans who end up in the justice system.

For more information on the Morris Rotary Club, visit www.morrisrotary.org.

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