Champaign County considers facility to keep certain low-level offenders out of prison

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URBANA--Champaign County leaders are looking for ways to get low-level offenders with certain conditions out of jail and into treatment.

On Wednesday, they hosted a meeting is to get input from the public about the possibility of building a facility where police could take what they call "quasi-criminals" with mental illnesses and substance use issues to get the resources they need, instead of putting them behind bars.

"We don't want to put these people into the jail or the justice system because treatment isn't obtained in our jail," said Chief Deputy Allen Jones, of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office.

But jail is typically the only option for offenders in Champaign County with behavior issues, mental illnesses, or drug disorders.

"There's a couple of obvious missing pieces here," said Peter Tracy, the county's mental health board director.

The Mental Health Board and Sheriff's Office are piecing together a solution, by exploring avenues that would divert those individuals who commit minor crimes away from prison and onto a path toward recovery.

Tracy says one source of inspiration is in Peoria, which has a 16-bed assessment center that offers detox and psychological services.
    
"It's an option for the police or law enforcement to take them somewhere other than jail. Many times we are talking about people that are homeless, and so in some cases jail is a survival strategy," said Tracy.
    
To help them survive outside the system, the facility would also connect them to resources in the community, including case managers and peer mentors.

However, because of the state budget crisis, securing funding for these programs is a must.

"The  topic of the meeting tonight can provide input as to 'we want you to be able to do this but we don't know where it's going to come from, and who's going to pay for it, how's it going to look and what system is the best solution to what's going forward,'" said Jones.

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