Current Activities


Gunderson v. Saddler.  The Project represents a class of all persons found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined at Elgin Mental Health Center.  This patients typically remain confined for many years, long after they are exhibiting any symptoms of mental illnesses.  They have an important interest in maintaining their connections to the community and be prepared for their inevitable release.   Elgin has a policy of prohibiting any patient from accessing the internet except to use state-owned computers for online college courses.  Many patients were taking advantage of this opportunity.  However, when these computers stopped working in 2014, Elgin failed to fix or replace them.  At present no patient can access the internet for any reason.  In December, 2015 we filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to restore the ability of patients to take online courses.. Jeremy Green '16, John White '16 and Stacey Petrek '17 are representing the Plaintiff class and drafted the motion and supporting memoranda.. On March 25, 2016, John White argued the motion before Judge Kennedy.  A decision is expected on April 29, 2016. 

Correction of Commitment Orders for Persons Found Not Guilty by reason of Insainty (NGRI).  . Persons are confined following an acquittal by reason of pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4.  This statute requires the commitment order to specificy a maximum period of confinement based upon the maximum sentence which could have been imposed upon the defendant. The release date based on this calculation is called a Thiem date.  Beginning in 2014 we discvored that many of these commitment orders are incorrect and all of the errors have been in only one direction--they are too long.  Indeed, we discovered several clients who remained confined under incorrect commitment orders even though their correct release date had already expired.  Currently Brian Pflaum '16 is working to correct two of these orders.  Students who assisted worked on this project previously include Kathleen Kinsella '16, Jeff Levine '15 and Molly Jamison '15.  These three students drafted a detailed memorandum explaining how Thiems date should be calculated which has been distributed to public defenders.  The Proect is also working with the Mental Health Law Section Council of the Illinois State Bar Associaton to amend the NGRI law  and the law governing unfit defendants in order to shorten and clarify these proviisions.

Release and pass hearings for Insanity Acquittees. The Project continues to represent persons confined pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4 following an acquittal by reason of insanity:

  • We are awaiting a hearing to consider a proposal from Elgin Mental Health Center that our client Karl Sneider be conditionally released.  Brian Pflaum '16 will represent Mr. Sneider in this hearing.  
  • In 2015, Emma Cone Roddy '15 and Molly Jamison represented Mia (Maikobi) Burks in her conditional release hearing. The court deined our client's release.  We are working with a Project alumnus, Robert Deegan '06  on an appeal and awaiting request from Elgin Mental Health Center for a hearing on passes for Ms. Burks. 
  • In November, 2015, the circuit court found that our client Omar Shaheed was no longer in need of mental health services.  However, the court disapproved of Elgin's plan for his release. The court ordered Elgin to devise a new plan and a hearing on that plan will take place in January, 2016.  Daniel Alperstein '16 represented Mr. Shaheed in the November hearing and continues to do so.  Jeff Levine '15 and Robert Zielinski '15 reprsented Mr. Shaheed in earlier phases of this cases and thier work contributed substantially to this victory. 
  • In 2014, we petitioned the circuit court for the conditional release of Rickey Anderson.  The court denied that petition after a hearing.  We appealed this denial and Kari Inglehart '15 and Josh Real '15, who had represented Mr. Anderson in that hearing, also wrote the opening appellate brief. Josh Real has continued to represent Mr. Anderson following Josh's graduation and wrote the reply brief on a pro bono basis.   .  

Legislation and Other Policy Projects

Mental Health Summit.  iI 2000, the Project took a lead role in creating the Mental Health Summit, a coalition of all of the mental health advocacy and provider organizations in Illinois whose goals is to maintain and improve mental health services in the state.  Project students staff the Summit.  This work includes:  1) organizing monthly meetings; 2) maintaining the Summit website; 3) helping to organized annual rallies ; and, 4) drafting advocacy materials for the Summit's members.  

Mental Health America and Mental Health America of Illinois. Mental Health America is a nationwide organization founded more than a century ago which does policy advocacy including legislative advocacy with Congres in the mental health field.  The Project works with MHA's Public Policy Committee to formulate and update MHA's extensive and detailed policy recommendations.  The Project also drafts legislation on behalf of MHA's Illinois chapter. Typically three or four bills drafted by the project become law in Illinois each year.  Among the current bills we drafted which is pending in the Illinois legislature is one to permit long-term patients in state hospitals to vote.  Brian Pflaum '16 drafted this bill.

Persons with Mental Illnesses in the Criminal Justice System.   There are more persons with mental illness in the Cook County Jail (more than 2,000) than in all of the public mental hospital in Illinois.  There are more persons with mental illnesses in state prisons (at least 7,000) than in all of the public and private mental hospitals in the state combined.  Persons with mental illnesses do not get good mental health care in prisons and jails.  In cooperation with many other groups the Project is working on several strategies for diverting persons with mental illnesses form the criminal justice system.  These include: 1) the creation and expansion of mental health courts; 2) connecting persons with mental illnesses in prisons and jails to Medicaid and disability benefits promptly upon discharge, and 3) working to make sure that Governor Rauner's plan to redue the state prison populatoin by 25%, includes appropriate behavioral health services for those diverted from prison.

Illinois State Bar Association Mental Health Law Section Council.   The Project director has been legislative liaison for this group for many years.  The Project frequently drafts legislation for the Seciton Council.  In December, 2015, the ISBA Board of Governors recently agreed to sponsor a bill drafted by the Project on behalf of the Section Council.  This bill is intended to overturn the Illinois Supreme Court's decision in James W.  In James W. the court upheld the commitment of a defendant who was forced to wait 90 days to obtain a commitment hearing because he assserted his statutory right to a jury trial.