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 Spring, 2016, In December, 2015 Jeremy Green '16, John 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.

Commitment, 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:

  • 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.  

Offender Registration Laws.  Illinois has expanded the number of crimes for which persons must be placed on a public registry.  Most of these laws require persons who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity to also register.  In October, 2016, we succeeded in obtaining a ruling that one of our clients who had been acquitted by reason of insanity of a homicide did not need to register.  Stephanie Spiro ’16 drafted the complaint which resulted in this ruling.   Erin Smith-Lanyon ’18 is working to extend the benefit of this decision to other clients.  


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.  

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 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 assserted his statutory right to a jury trial.