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2-year old mental health court program canceled

URBANA -- Champaign County leaders are putting the brakes on mental health court.
URBANA -- Champaign County leaders are putting the brakes on mental health court. The program just started two years ago. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera has more.

Just like that, it's over. The judge in charge of mental health court met with his presiding judge about a week ago, and they decided the program just wasn't working. The main sticking point? A disagreement between him and the State's Attorney.

"In my opinion, we should not be using incarceration as a tool or a weapon to force people to comply with their treatment plans or, more importantly, to take their medication or agree to take a shot" said State's Attorney Julia Rietz.

Rietz says she's sticking by that, which is why she says it's sad to see the mental health court fold.

"I think we were in the process of coming up with a good plan," said Rietz. "Our service providers were expressing their opinions and really giving us their thoughts about how to deal with treatment issues for their clients."

Judge Jeffrey Ford says the court never used jail time to force people to take their medications. The mental health program was voluntary.

People involved tried to address their issues with the help of other service providers. Judge Jeffrey Ford says, if people volunteered for it, and didn't follow through, going to jail could be considered a last resort while they decided whether to comply or not.

Masters social work students at UI researched the topic. Even they didn't come up with a clear-cut direction when it comes to time behind bars. Mental health experts say each situation could call for a different decision.

"We like to see as many options as possible for people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders so they don't end up in jail as a default mental health treatment," said Champaign County Mental Health Board executive director Peter Tracy.

The county's mental health board gives about a half-million dollars to the court system annually. That's to fund people who need mental health help. The executive director says they plan to keep doing that.

The State's Attorney says they've seen between 20 - 25 people work their way through mental health court during the past two years. Seven were involved in it when it ended. Now their cases are being considered regular probation cases.
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