SPRINGFIELD -- Treating and housing mentally ill prisoners is costing more in Illinois.
State documents show Illinois taxpayers will be billed more than $17.8 million to turn existing prison space into mental health care facilities, the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reported.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has asked architectural firms for proposals to convert a dining hall at Pontiac Correctional Center into exam rooms for seriously mentally ill inmates, records from late July showed. The agency also wants to convert 48 cells at Pontiac to house mentally ill inmates. The cost is estimated at $800,000.
"We've got some space that's available, and we definitely need to increase the capacity for dealing with seriously mentally ill," Department spokesman Tom Shaer said.
Efforts also are underway to convert a closed juvenile prison in Joliet into a facility for mentally ill inmates. An architectural firm estimates the cost at $17 million. Original estimates were $9 million. The project would include making cells suicide-proof and building a perimeter fence and guard tower. The work is expected to begin in December, records show.
Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said more treatment for mentally ill inmates would make the prison system safer.
"Our union will keep pushing to ensure safety, hire adequate staff and expand rehabilitative programs, and advocating for the revenue needed to do so," Lindall said.