Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chicago today denounced the shameful inaction of Gov. Rauner as Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) was forced to lay off 750 employees and shut down 30 social service programs in the wake of the state budget impasse.
On Jan. 21, LSSI President and CEO Mark Studrud announced the program closures and staff cuts as a result of the failure of the State to pay for LSSI’s services following the Governor’s ongoing failure to secure a budget. LSSI, the largest statewide provider of social services, is currently owed $6 million by the State for services it had continued to perform in good faith during the impasse. LSSI reports that 4,700 people will lose access to care as a result of these cuts.
The program closures and staff cuts will have devastating effects on Cook County’s most vulnerable communities, particularly those living with mental illness and struggling with addiction. Several of the slashed programs focused specifically on prisoner re-entry, helping non-violent individuals in custody secure housing and develop marketable employment skills upon leaving the criminal justice system. Community-based mental health services will be cut statewide, widening the pipeline to jail for those badly in need of access to mental healthcare.
“Our Governor frequently touts his business acumen and data-driven approach to public policy. I would love for him to show me the data proving that his stubborn refusal to consider the interests of the most vulnerable among us does anything other than destroy lives and swell our criminal justice system,” said Sheriff Dart. “Lutheran provides essential services to the very people government is supposed to care for in times of distress. For the Governor to allow these programs to whither way is simply deplorable. Without Lutheran’s diversion programs, my Cook County Jail population will rise, costing taxpayers significantly more in both the short-term and long-term.”
Following historic cuts to statewide mental health services in recent years, Cook County Jail has emerged as the largest mental health provider in the United States, with typically 25-35 percent of Cook County Jail individuals in custody suffering from mental illness. Lack of access to medication and mental healthcare has effectively criminalized mental illness, with non-violent offenders simply cycling between the streets and jail in lieu of receiving the care they so badly need. Lutheran Social Services works directly with Cook County Jail staff on several effective discharge programs that allow former individuals in custody to maintain happy and healthy lives outside of the criminal justice system.
“This is a very sad day in our communities, our neighborhoods, our county, our state. Policy makers have decided that our veterans, our seniors, individuals impacted by mental illness and substance abuse disorders are not valued. Where will they seek treatment now?” said Alexa James, Executive Director of NAMI Chicago. “Our mental health system is bare bones. We are in a crisis. People are dying. This is not a ripple effect, this tears at the fabric of our families. We are running out of creative solutions and feel devastated for Lutheran Social Services and the communities they have lifted up for so many years.”
In August 2015, Sheriff Dart and NAMI Chicago joined forces to call on the Governor to restore funding for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, which provides advanced mental health training for law enforcement to divert non-violent offenders away from jail and avoid use of force. The advocacy resulted in a partial reinstatement of the funding, with Sheriff Dart stepping to fill in the rest of the gaps to ensure Sheriff’s Police and local Cook County law enforcement continued to receive this essential training.
The mission of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chicago is to provide hope and improve the quality of life for those whose lives are affected by mental illness.