Illinois' prisons are changing the way they treat their mentally ill.

More than a quarter of Illinois' inmates are diagnosed with some form of mental illness.

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), in cooperation with several state agencies, is creating a line of communication with community organizations to effectively treat mental illness before and after someone is released. The Health and Human Services Transformation Initiative is a program that officials expect to be a blueprint for other states.

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Initiated by Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state is seeking to use a Medicaid waiver to fund the opening of four new facilities, involve mental health professionals in disciplinary decisions, and train corrections officers in new protocols when dealing with mentally ill inmates. The program also will allow for telepsychiatry sessions before an inmate's release and set up personal-care doctors after release.

IDOC Director John Baldwin said this transition is crucial for those inmates who re-enter society.

"That step, along with all of the other components of the program, will dramatically increase the success on the outside of our offenders who have behavioral health issues," Baldwin said.

Baldwin said that even though the program should lead to significant savings, the value of safer streets is priceless.

"You can't put a price tag on reducing victims."

Baldwin said the current recidivism rate is 47 percent, but that jumps to nearly 60 percent for those who are diagnosed with mental health issues.

(Copyright WBGZ /