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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

Mental Health Awareness Month with Scott Block


This May, we’re recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month. The following interview features State Court Behavioral Health Administrator, Scott Block, who shares his thoughts on his role, behavioral health in the courts, and more.

Please explain your role as State Court Behavioral Health Administrator. What does this entail?

First and foremost, I’d like to thank the Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court and the Director of the AOIC for their leadership, vision, and support of the role in which I am privileged to serve. As one of the first State Courts to establish a Behavioral Health Administrator position, we were at the forefront of addressing the reality that behavioral health issues impact all facets of the court. With that said, the role is extensive and dynamic in its scope.

At its foundation, the role provides the judicial branch with a dedicated voice and resource, committed to improving the courts’ response to behavioral health related issues at the national, state, and local policy and systems level. On any given day the broad nature of the role may involve providing strategic and technical consultation to judges and judicial branch staff, integrating subject matter expertise within the various court commissions and committees, developing, or facilitating training and educational events, or liaising with state agencies and justice partners.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Engaging in compassionate and meaningful work that enhances public health and safety is what fuels my enthusiasm for this work. Daily, I am fortunate to interact with a diverse network of colleagues and professionals who are equally passionate about making a difference, and I really enjoy learning and sharing through these connections.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What does this mean to you?

Each year I look forward to May in anticipation of Mental Health Awareness Month. There are very few issues that impact our personal and professional lives as universally as mental health, so the national observance provides an intentional opportunity to raise awareness, share experiences, and promote resources.

In what ways do behavioral/mental health and the courts intersect?

As mentioned previously, there is no part of the courts that are unaffected by behavioral health. The behavioral health factor in our courts is pervasive and influences how we interact with court-involved individuals, how we apply policy and practice to balance fair and just individual and societal outcomes, and even how we care for our own well-being. Widely cited research indicates that an estimated 70% of individuals involved in the criminal justice system are living with a behavioral health disorder. Although the percentage of civil litigants is not as easily attainable, one can only posit that many individuals involved in cases including family dynamics, finances, housing stability, etc. are also struggling with similar concerns… And for those of us who are working within the courts, secondary exposure to tragic events, stories of violence, and overall distressing situations are recurring experiences that take an emotional toll on judges and judicial branch staff. Wherever we look, an element of behavioral health is present. The good news is that courts and justice partners are more aware of these issues than ever before, and systems are constantly evolving to meet this reality.

The Mental Health Task Force’s Action Plan has made multiple recommendations to improve the court’s response to individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. How would you summarize these recommendations?

The Action Plan is built on the premise that no one agency or institution can address the overrepresentation of justice-involved individuals with behavioral health needs, so we all must work together. Although some of the recommendations are directly within the control and purview of the courts such as courts acting as conveners of local justice partners, diverting individuals to treatment when appropriate, or increasing judicial branch education, other recommendations are driven by systems whose resources or actions may have a direct impact on courts and court users. Thus, the underlying theme of the Action Plan reinforces a multi-disciplinary and cross-systems approach to improving the court and community response to individuals with behavioral health needs. The recommendations themselves identify actions that courts can take to implement and promote best practices across the criminal justice continuum.

What are your current priorities and what more do you hope to accomplish?

Currently, my focus is on promoting and implementing the Action Plan. This fills my days with ample opportunities to provide training and technical assistance to help courts integrate processes that identify individuals with behavioral health needs, develop new diversion programs, lead local behavioral health and justice coordinating councils, and even seek funding to support such endeavors. All three branches of the Illinois Government have also taken action to alleviate pressures on the Competency to Stand Trial system. Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court approved a report providing guidance as to how courts can impact this process, so promoting and implementing improvements is a primary focus. Adjacent to this issue is the role of our Civil Mental Health system, which has also emerged as an area with potential for process improvements.

As for what I hope to accomplish, each time I share resources, facilitate training, advocate for policy and practice improvements, contribute to or inspire change is a worthy achievement. Practically speaking, my vision is to use the broad scope of my role to integrate behavioral health related discussions in all aspects of court operations.

Is there anything else you’d like to add on this topic?

Although public perception appears to be improving, mental health is still highly stigmatized. In true “advocate” fashion, I’d like to use this time to issue a challenge to my friends and colleagues. To help reduce stigma, let’s all strive to maintain the sentiment of Mental Health Awareness Month beyond May and normalize open mental health dialogues in our daily social and work lives.