Evaluating and reforming competency to stand trial processes and procedures has emerged as a prominent national discussion, prompting the State Justice Institute to work alongside and support the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators CCJ-COSCA National Task Force to Examine the State Court response to Mental Illness to develop several resources designed to assist state courts in assessing potential opportunities for system improvements. As the Illinois Supreme Court furthers its effort to improve its response to individuals with serious mental illness, it has found that previous challenges with forensic admissions have increased significantly with the impacts of COVID-19. Impacts include critical staffing shortages, increased referrals, and a lack of community alternatives.
The Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Mental Health (IDHS-DMH) regularly reports operating with a full census of approximately 1200 individuals receiving care within its state operated hospitals, with over 100 more individuals waiting to be transferred from county jails, many waiting beyond 60 days.
Not only does this increase costs, overburden state agencies, and county jails, but it also is taking a significant toll on the health and well-being of people waiting in county jails for inpatient competency restoration services.
The Illinois Legislature has prioritized a “reimagining” of the state operated psychiatric facilities via the Mental Health Inpatient Facility Access Act – Public Act 102-0913. The “Act” requires IDHS/DMH to develop a written, strategic plan that comprehensively addresses improving access to inpatient psychiatric beds in state-operated mental health facilities for individuals needing a hospital level of care. As IDHS/DMH deploys several strategies they believe will augment the State’s mental health infrastructure to “improve the forensic admissions process,” officials recently sought and were successful in facilitating legislative amendments to the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act. The amendments were signed into law, effective “immediately” on January 18, 2023, via Public Act 102-1118. Aside from revisions to “clean-up” previous language, the Act includes several amendments thought to be beneficial to IDHS operations, yet also have a direct impact on trial court competency restoration-related operations.
As IDHS/DMH efforts commenced, Illinois Supreme Court Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning (JMHPC) also convened a subcommittee focused on evaluating potential court enacted solutions to align efforts toward competency to stand trial system improvements.
To assist the Committee with this effort, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts was awarded a $50,000 Grant from the State Justice Institute. With technical assistance from the National Center for State Courts, there is currently a focused effort underway to review the Court’s role in managing cases involving competency to stand trial proceedings while identifying operational efficiencies that best balance community needs, defendant interests, and judicial resources. The subcommittee aims to complete its work by year end, culminating with a court-driven action plan promoting strategies to help alleviate the burgeoning forensic mental health system crisis.