Elgin mental hospital to house more prisoners, fewer civilian patients
Up to 44 prisoners needing significant mental health care will be moved to the Elgin Mental Health Center in the coming months, state officials announced Friday.
The move is part of a legal settlement calling for more care for those inmates. Accordingly, the Elgin facility will renovate two units, adding security, officials said.
"This is the most fundamental change that the state of Illinois is undertaking to try to solve a serious problem in its prison system," Illinois Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin said in a statement.
The state-run psychiatric hospital, which admitted its first patient in 1872, has more than 400 beds and primarily coordinates inpatient and outpatient treatment for adults and juveniles referred through the court system who are found not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to stand trial. It serves people from 14 counties including DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry.
State officials say people now being served in the Elgin units designated for the new inmates will be relocated, but they did not give specifics.
State Rep. Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat, said many questions remain unanswered, including whether the move is permanent and if more prisoners might be headed for Elgin.
"How long they are going to be there. How is this going to affect patients who are currently there, both forensic (inmates) and clinical (civilian)?" she said. "At this point there is no plan for expanding that facility."
Moeller also said she's concerned the center's displaced civilian patients would be left without resources.
"We need to make sure, if they are going to be moving clinical patients, that they have a place to go and they are not just being put out on the street," she said. "We need to find out where those civilians will be going, if there are other facilities that can accommodate them. We want to make sure that if they are being moved or transferred, that they are getting the appropriate care."
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spokesman Anders Lindall said patients in the units to be vacated are people who have sought mental health care voluntarily. The union represents workers in Elgin.
Lindall said there's "no question" the prison system needed to invest in more mental health care, "but that should not come at the cost of the already tattered mental health safety net."
With added prisoners, security at the center is a primary concern for local authorities.
In July 2014, an inmate from the center escaped from a van taking him to a Lake County court hearing, sparking an eight-hour manhunt before he was captured.
"We don't want to have a repeat of what happened with the escapee a couple of years ago," said Moeller, who sponsored legislation requiring an audit of the center to ensure it didn't happen again.
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain will meet with the city manager and police chief next week to discuss security concerns with the prisoner influx.
Elgin has plans to expand its youth Sports Complex into the former Larkin Center's Rakow Campus, which the city purchased from the state. The 90 acres on the southwest corner of routes 20 and 31 once belonged to the Elgin Mental Health Center. There also could be a future park with picnic areas developed there.
"The use of that property is changing from our standpoint," Kaptain said. "We need some comfort that security is going to be good. ... If it expands over a period of time to a couple of hundred (more prisoners), there could be a safety issue for us. We need to be part of the conversation here."