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IDOC director: Many mentally ill inmates not getting proper care

Pantagraph - 8/27/2018

Aug. 27--PEORIA -- Two years after the Illinois Department of Corrections agreed to sweeping changes in mental health services, many inmates are still going without adequate care, the agency's director told a federal judge on Monday.

Acting IDOC director John Baldwin was the first witness called by the state at a civil trial in U.S. District Court for the central district of Illinois. Judge Michael Mihm will decide if a preliminary injunction he issued in May against the state will be permanent. The judge previously found IDOC acted with deliberate indifference in its care of an estimated 11,000 mentally ill prisoners held in state facilities.

"A small but growing number of severely mentally ill inmates are receiving very adequate care," Baldwin. Others, he admitted, will not see improved care until 1,200 news beds in treatment facilities are available.

Harold Hirschman, one of the lawyers for inmates, questioned the timing of the state's stepped-up efforts to complete new mental health facilities.

Baldwin characterized the progress as ongoing since he arrived in Illinois three years ago and saw a penal system in need of an overhaul.

"The system I inherited needed some fundamental change and we are effectuating that change," said Baldwin.

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The slow recruitment of trained staff has cost some inmates their lives, according to the legal team for inmates. The suicide of an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center about a month ago resulted in the firing of an employee of Wexford Health Sources, the contractor providing heath care to state prisons, said Hirschman.

"We try not to put anybody in danger, " Baldwin said of the staffing issues, but he acknowledged that low staffing levels "certainly could be a factor" in situations that lead to harm.

The trial is expected to last about 10 days.

This story will be updated.

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