Illinois prisons are being ordered to provide more mental health services to inmates. Advocates and prison officials agree it needs to be done, but it will be a challenge to pay for it.

A judge ordered sweeping changes to the way Illinois cares for inmates with mental health problems.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the prison reform group the John Howard Association, said Illinois needs to do a better job taking care of mentally ill inmates.

“They were, by and large, housed within prisons and general population,” Vollen-Katz said. “Sometimes there were recognized for very high levels of mental illness.”

The judge is ordering new mental health centers at prisons in Dixon, Pontiac and Lincoln as well as the youth center in Joliet. It will cost a reported $40 million to build the mental health facilities and as much as another $40 million a year to run them.

John Baldwin, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, said Illinois doesn’t have $80 million lying around. The department $17 million in the next proposed budget.

“We feel very confident ... the funders will appropriate funds in due course,” Baldwin said. “There are timeframes built into [the settlement] based on when the budget gets approved. So we have months, years depending on the issue.”

The order settles a 2007 lawsuit filed by an inmate at the Pontiac Correctional Center.


(Copyright WBGZ Radio/