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Hours before hearing for violating state law, IDHS transfers 'mentally unfit' inmates from Knox Co. to hospitals

The Illinois Department of Human Services transported all awaiting inmates deemed "mentally unfit" to mental health hospitals Thursday.
Credit: 5NEWS

KNOX COUNTY, Ill. — On Thursday, Aug. 4, the Illinois Department of Human Services transported all Knox County Jail inmates deemed to be mentally unfit to stand trial to mental health hospitals. This came just hours before the department's secretary was scheduled to appear in court for violating state law in failing to allow their transfer.

In July, Knox County State's Attorney Jeremy Karlin filed contempt petitions against IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou for failing to allow the transport of five inmates, some of them waiting over 100 days to be moved. Karlin claimed the department had deemed the Knox County inmates unfit for trial, evaluated them and found them suitable for treatment at McFarland Mental Health Hospital.

Associate Circuit Judge Curtis Lane ordered Hou to appear in court Thursday to provide evidence on why she should not be held in contempt for willfully disobeying transport orders. However, Lane declared the issue moot Thursday when IDHS finally allowed the inmates' transport. The last of five was transported just four hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin.

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At Thursday's contempt hearing, Lane said he would not hesitate to sign orders in the future should IDHS fail to comply with state law in a timely manner.

Following the inmates' transfer, Karlin issued the following statement:

The system of ensuring mental health treatment for unfit defendants appears to be broken. It should not take the threat of contempt to obtain approval for transportation of these individuals to IDHS mental health hospitals. There needs to be sufficient resources allocated for additional beds and staff so IDHS can meet its statutory obligations. The current situation is a disservice to the people in need of mental health care, the victims in these cases who must wait for resolution, jail staff whose own safety is jeopardized, and the taxpayers who should rightfully expect state agencies to comply with their duties in a timely manner.

In June, Rock Island County filed contempt petitions against the Department of Human Services for the same reason.

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