Mental Health Project

Project Goals

  1. To improve the quality and quantity of community mental health services for persons with serious mental illnesses.
  2. To improve the quality of care provided in state mental hospitals.
  3. To insure that persons confined in state hospitals are treated in the least restrictive environment.
  4. To create a coordinated system of care for persons with mental illness in Illinois.
  5. To reduce the number of persons with mental illness in the criminal justice system.
  6. To improve the treatment provided to persons with mental illness in prisons and jails.

Students who want to learn more about the Mental Health Project may contact Professor Heyrman.

Clinical teacher: Mark J. Heyrman

Project Secretary:  Zonda Carriel

Project Social Worker: Michelle Geller

Project Students

Class of 2018

  • Lane Clark
  • Matthew Deates
  • Maura Levine
  • Paul Mathis IV
  • Erin Smith-Lanyon
  • Stephanie Xiao

Class of 2019

  • Julia Bradley
  • Angella Molvig
  • Jon Ragsdale
  • Libby Strichartz

Access to the Internet

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 Spring, 2016, In December, 2015 Jeremy Green '16John White '16, and Stacey Petrek '17 filed a motion for partial summary judgment to allow patients to possess a computer unless a mental health professional makes an individual clinical judgment that this would harmful.  This motion was grant in November, 2016.  We are continuing to conduct discover on the remainder of this case.

Clients confined following an acquittal by reason of insanity

The Project continues to represent persons confined pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4 following an acquittal by reason of insanity:

  • On November 7, 2016, Stacey Petrek ’17 represented Olachi Etoh in a commitment hearing following our client’s acquittal by reason of insanity.  As often happens, Ms. Etoh was being held at Elgin Mental Health Center without ever having been afforded the statutorily required hearings.  We are awaiting a ruling from the judge.
  • On March 30, 2016, the Circuit Court found that our client David Neubauer was "no longer in need of mental health services on an inpatient basis" and ordered Elgin Mental Health Center to prepare a conditional release plan for our client.  Daniel Alperstein '16 represented Mr. neubauer in obtaining this order. Elgin has finally done so and a hearing to review that plan will commence on January 4, 2017.
  • Late in 2015, we assisted Darron Stafford in filling a pro se petition for conditional release from Read MHC.  That petition sought a hearing, the appointment of counsel and the appointment of an independent examiner to review Mr. Stafford's continuing need for confinement.  When none of these statutory rights were afforded to Mr. Stafford, Matthew Deates '18 filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Illinois Supreme Court seeking to obtain a release hearing.  Apparently in response to this filing, on November 11, 2016, Mr Stafford was transported to the courthouse.  On that day, the court, without allowing Mr. Stafford to phyisically appear in court, and without any witnesses being called, denied Mr. Stafford's petition.  We are appealling that decision.  

Mental Health Summit

In 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.

The Summit's webpage has detailed information about mental health policieslegislation and events and links to the websites of its member organizations.  

The Summit's Facebook page tracks media concerning mental health issues and advocacy alerts.  

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.

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 reduce the state prison population 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 Section Council.  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 asserted his statutory right to a jury trial.