Editorial Roundup: Illinois

 
 
Updated 12/14/2021 7:10 AM

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. December 10, 2021.

Editorial: It's one thing to change our mindset on mental illness and crime; now we have to find strategies

 

The link between crime and mental illness is nothing new. Criminal justice experts have been studying it for decades, and a relatively recent trend toward diverting some suspects to special mental health courts aims to address the notion that traditional forms of punishment offer limited to no potential to prevent certain suspects from finding their way back into court or prison.

But effective long-term approaches remain elusive.

This week, Anne Burke, chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, and other criminal justice experts spoke to reporters in Springfield about ongoing efforts to find more effective ways to deal with people whose mental health issues bring them in contact with the court system. The meeting was a followup to a 'úcall to action'Ě Burke issued in October 2020 as part of a nationwide initiative seeking better alternatives than traditional punishments for individuals whose behaviors are not the result of malicious self-interest but of unmanaged mental illness.

The initiative, growing out of a National Centers for State Courts project, features a host of high-sounding goals and phrases that essentially boil down to Burke's assertion that the courts' approach to mental illness must be one of 'úcompassion and hope.'Ě

It must, of course. But the real objective of the moment is to move beyond hope and toward effective action. That likely will prove a considerably more imposing challenge than merely redirecting the mindset of the court system.

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In an October 2020 report of its own, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority acknowledges the value of the burgeoning mental health court process, but takes pains to note that, despite some 'úpositive results,'Ě these courts have yet to conclusively demonstrate their effectiveness at moving suspects with mental health issues into appropriate treatment or assuring that they don't repeat the behaviors that brought them into contact with the court system in the first place.

Achieving that mission is the next step for the NCSC project and Illinois' participation in it. The Illinois Mental Health Task Force will begin in January an intensive effort aimed at identifying concrete measures the courts can take to better distinguish between purely criminal behaviors and actions arising out of mental illness.

An Associated Press story this week on criminal justice officials' discussion of these issues includes a poignant quote from Patti Tobias, principal court management consultant for the NCSC.

'úMental illness is not a crime. It's a brain disorder,'Ě Tobias said. 'úSerious mental Illness impacts all of our court dockets. Access to care is often scarce or non-existent...'Ě

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This, it must be said, after decades of research and study.

It is certainly worthwhile to join in calls for greater compassion and judgment in addressing crime-related problems of the mentally ill. But we must also recognize that the critical work, the job of finding real and workable solutions, is just getting started.

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Chicago Sun-Times. December 6, 2021.

Editorial: We have to find a better way to deal with low-level drug crime

The current system levies a huge toll on personal lives, as well as for every taxpayer who has to foot the cost.

Often, large systems keep grinding on in illogical and futile ways because no one understands how much their day-to-day actions hurt average people.

An investigation by Sun-Times reporter Frank Main and Better Government Association reporters Casey Toner and Jared Rutecki lifted the veil on one such system: the long-running practice of arresting people for small amounts of illegal drugs, only to quickly release them without any criminal charges.

Many cops go on making the arrests because it is a way to respond to complaints from Chicago residents about brazen drug-dealing in their communities. But many judges, prosecutors, police officers and others in the system recognize how counterproductive it is to arrest people for small, user-level amounts of illegal drugs.

To dip into our bag of cliches, it does more harm than good.

The first story in the investigation, published in the Sunday Sun-Times, documented just how much harm the practice causes to the people caught up in this pointless system - most of them Black men who have always paid the highest price for our society's many missteps in the so-called 'ėwar on drugs.'

For anyone living just a few dollars ahead of financial disaster, a short time in jail - even though they are released without a conviction or going to trial - can cost them their job. They might lose their homes. They might lose their personal relationships. If their car is impounded, they may have no way to scrape together a couple of thousand dollars to get it back. Their lives are ruined.

It also costs taxpayers. The Sun-Times and the BGA calculated that, between 2013 and 2018, it cost more than $100 million to briefly jail people on low-level drug charges, excluding medical care costs.

After analyzing 280,000 drug possession cases over nearly two decades of court data compiled by The Circuit - a collaborative of news organizations - the Sun-Times and BGA found that about half were dropped at their earliest stages. That dismissal rate has soared in the most recent years. In 2018, 72% of such cases were dropped.

Instead of letting this system lumber along, damaging people's lives left and right, it's time to fix it. The investigation found that tens of thousands of Chicagoans have been put behind bars on drug charges for a short time, even though everyone in the system knew the charges would be dropped. That's a huge toll on personal lives, as well as for every taxpayer who has to foot the cost.

Decriminalization, foregoing arrests

Legislation that would make possession of under three grams of heroin or methamphetamine and under five grams of cocaine a misdemeanor instead of a felony passed the Illinois House in the spring session, but has gone nowhere in the Senate. We're told that's because violent crimes have started to spike, alarming politicians who don't want a vote easing criminal penalties - even for non-violent, low-level drug offenses - to be used against them in the next election.

We don't know if the new limits in that legislation are too high, but it's clear Illinois needs to follow the lead of states that have decriminalized small amounts of illegal drugs. Now, possession of even a trace of such drugs as heroin is a felony.

Another possibility is police could just stop arresting people for user-level amounts of illegal drugs. Police in 2016 began a diversion program to allow some people caught with small amounts of drugs to go into treatment instead of the courts, but the program benefits only a small fraction of arrestees. Expanding the program might make a dent in the problem.

Good solutions, though, aren't easy to find. Since February, police in Oregon, using a new law, have written 1,300 tickets for drug possession instead of arresting people. Hundreds of millions of dollars were set aside to expand drug treatment. But records show few drug users have entered treatment to the extent that reformers had hoped.

Overdoses have skyrocketed during the pandemic. The New York Times reports more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses in the 12 months ending in April, a record high and 30% more than the previous year. Imaginative new policies treating drug addiction as a health problem instead of a crime are needed.

Yet year after year, the Illinois system has marched along, throwing people into jail without providing a solution to the scourge of drugs and drug crime.

More of the same is not an answer.

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Decatur Herald & Review. December 10, 2021.

Editorial: Not all unemployment as it seems

The spin that can be put on Illinois unemployment is astonishing.

The unemployment rate has decreased each of the last seven months. It's statewide '" unemployment is down in all of the state's 14 metropolitan areas. The rate is 6%.

But those help wanted signs aren't going away. Businesses are struggling to fill positions and shifts. Some have cut their business hours. Some have closed temporarily.

Those facts have led some to believe there are thousands of workers in Illinois and around the United States who are lazily sitting at home being taken care of by government checks.

Certainly some are. But there are other considerations.

Illinois will pass 30,000 COVID-related deaths this month. Some of those were certainly part of the workforce.

Some people managed to find satisfaction working non-traditional jobs from home.

Some decided they didn't want to work just to make enough money to pay for child care.

Some realized they didn't want to return to jobs they hated.

Those who have not gone back to work in the service industry have to imagine they've made the right decision when they see the way some of us are treating service workers. Public workspaces are turning into spots of confrontation.

COVID has been a nightmare and much worse and longer than we've expected. We're all on edge. Stepping back and allowing people to live with and live through the decisions they've made.

COVID has touched each of us in different ways. We should spend a little less time on judgment and a little more time on patience.

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