Mental Health Project

The Mental Health Project is now closed.

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

Recent Developments (Updated December 27, 2016)

People v. Matthew Dempsey.  We have represented Mr. Dempsey for many years.  Several years ago we obtained his conditional release from confinement pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4.  In Spring, 2016, the State's Attorney of Peoria County filed a petition to revoke his conditional release.   A hearing was held on that petition on November 18, 2016.  The court denied the petition and ordered Mr. Dempsey to be conditionally released again.  Nick Smith '17 represented Mr. Dempsey in the revocation hearing.

People v. Omar Shaheed.  We represent Mr. Shaheed who has been confined at Elgin Mental Health Center pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4 for many years after being found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI).. Following a contested hearing on November 12, 2015, the court found that he not longer met the criteria for inpatient confinement.  However, the court disapproved of the conditional release plan prepared by Elgin MHC and directed that they prepare a new plan within 60 days.    Elgin MHC complied with this order and in May, 2016, following a hearing on this new plan, Mr. Shaheed was conditionally released. Daniel Alperstein '16 represented Mr. Shaheed in these hearings.   

People v. Karl Sneider.  We represent Mr. Sneider who has been confined at Elgin Mental Health Center pursuant to 730 ILCS 5.5-2-4 for many years after being found not guilty by reason of insanity of a homicide. Following a contested hearing on February 11, 2016, the court found that he could be conditionally released to live in the community.  Brian Pflaum '16 represented Mr. Sneider in his release hearing.

Legislation Drafted by the Project and Passed by the Illinois Legislature in 2015 and 2016

Public Act 99-0877 (effective 8/22/16).  As part of our ongoing efforts to reduce the number of persons with mental illnesses in prison, we obtained an amendment to the sentencing provisions in Illinois law requiring judges to consider any evidence presented to them concerning a defendant's mental illnesses as a factor in mitigation of the sentence to be imposed.  

Public Act 99-0179 (effective 7/29/15. Because of an unintentional anomaly in the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code, persons charged with a felony cannot be the subject of a hearing to authorize psychotropic medication under 405 ILCS 5/2-107.1.  At least 15% of the people in county jails have a serious mental illness.  Many of them are unable or unwilling to consent to the medications needed to reduce or prevent their suffering.  Illinois has a statutorily- defined procedure for court hearings to determine whether such medications are necessary and appropriate.  .This law makes that procedure available to persons awaiting trial on felony charges.

Public Act 99-0028 (effective 1/1/16)  Several court decisions have suggested that the otherwise broad protections contained in the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act only apply to records and documents created during a "therapeutic relationship."  Thus, records and communications created during a referral evaluation or by ancillary providers such a pharmacists who are dispensing psychotropic medications appear not to be protected.  The law overturns this restrictive interpretation of the Confidentiality Act.

Public Act 99-0220 (effective 7/31/15). The venue provisions governing involuntary commitment hearings permit a respondent to have a commitment hearing transferred to her or his county of residence for any reason. This has created problems in rural areas of Illinois where patients are often treated in a hospital in another county.  If involuntary commitment is necessary, the venue provisions frequently result in substantial delays in commitment hearings, additional expense in transporting the patient and witnesses to the hearing, and sometimes even the dismissal of the commitment petition for reasons unrelated to its merits.  This Act limits changes of venue to cases where they are necessary to facilitate the attendance of witnesses which are necessary to afford the patient a fair hearing.   

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 physically appear in court, and without any witnesses being called, denied Mr. Stafford's petition.  We are appealing 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 Congress 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.