Mental health treatment inside the Illinois prison system and upon release from prison
The Mental Health Law Section Council recently welcomed attorney Stuart Chanen to speak to the group. A partner with Valorem Law Group, as a part of his litigation practice, he represents clients in complex business disputes. He also provides criminal defense, conducts civil fraud prosecution and internal investigations. Further, he engages in employment litigation and represents plaintiffs in civil rights cases.
In the course of Mr. Chanen’s pro bono work for Northwestern University School of Law’s Center for Wrongful Convictions, he represented a defendant named Thaddeus Jimenez, who was arrested when he was 13 years old for a murder he did not commit. Mr. Jimenez subsequently spent 16 years in prison. Mr. Chanen and his team of attorneys who worked on Mr. Jimenez’s case achieved exoneration and a Certificate of Innocence for Mr. Jimenez. In addition, Mr. Chanen succeeded in obtaining a $25 million verdict against the City of Chicago in favor of Mr. Jimenez. Further, Mr. Chanen achieved the release of 10 people from prison who were wrongfully convicted of rape or murder. He has obtained multiple Certificates of Innocence for clients.
Mr. Chanen has observed many clients who were wrongfully convicted leave prison with a lot of anger. Mr. Chanen shared his key principle that clients who hold onto the anger are the clients who ultimately suffer the most. Mr. Chanen’s work on these cases has demonstrated to him that when young men, between 15 to 20 years old, are arrested, many of them enter prison with mental health issues.
Mr. Chanen provided some statistics regarding the general Illinois prison population and the mentally ill population within it. He explained that the prison population growth between the years 2000 and 2017 reflects neither growth nor reduction. He stated that 24 percent of the prisoners in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) are identified as a part of the prison’s mental health caseload. During the 2015 fiscal year for the IDOC, 30,369 people left prison. He explained that 7,289 people on the prison’s mental health caseload were released, mostly as parolees. As such, an extremely small percentage (as little as less than 1 percent) of the 24 percent which was identified as a part of the prison’s mental health caseload, were given mental health placements upon their release from prison.
Mr. Chanen concluded his informative presentation by discussing some of the support groups available to exonerated individuals. He gathers that these groups may not explicitly focus on obtaining mental health services for clients but rather provide other services, which are necessary though more administrative.
Ultimately, Mr. Chanen’s presentation emphasized the lack of mental health services for inmates, even among those who are identified as needing mental health treatment. He offered a valuable perspective on the lack of care this population receives upon exiting prison.