Urbana recommends mental health court, incarceration alternatives

By Fatima Farha

A mental health court may be re-established in Champaign County after a resolution was passed with a recommendation for approval by the Urbana City Council on Monday.

The resolution, proposed by Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, would create the court as a safe place for mental health patients to receive help. The goal of the court is to keep the patients out of jail, which often occurs because there is no other place to assist them.

Alderman Dennis Roberts, Ward 5, said the resolution would create another option for people who are arrested for social disturbances linked to mental issues. He believes rather than putting them in jail, this would be a safer and more effective way to treat them.

“They shouldn’t be taken directly to the jail,” Roberts said. “There should be a way of alleviating the situation that does not require a criminal aspect to it, but actually provides assistance and finds community solutions for safety and treatment for people suffering from mental health issues.”

Along with the mental health court resolution, the council also passed a resolution for alternatives to incarceration with a recommendation for approval.

Alderman Eric Jakobsson, Ward 2, created the resolution, which states that excessive incarceration is more harmful than safe because it does not help nonviolent offenders or individuals suffering from mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. The resolution calls for a halt on planning future jail facilities until plans are made for alternatives to incarceration.

During the meeting, Jakobsson said while the Champaign County Downtown Jail is in bad condition, people should not be asked to invest money into the criminal justice system; instead, he said they should be asked to address the many issues surrounding the criminal justice system.

“I think we are all aware of the movement … that recognizes we are incarcerating too many people in this country,” Jakobsson said. “This is a time when we should take a hard look at the mental health issues, at the substance abuse issues, what we do with nonviolent offenders, and the consequences of detention on people’s lives.”

The final vote on both resolutions will be made during the next city council meeting on Monday, March 2.

Fatima can be reached at [email protected]