Reintegration & Recovery >> Independent Living
Thresholds Program Helps Break the Cycle of Incarceration and Hospitalization
Submitted by Jason Fujioka -- Director of Information, Thresholds
Before coming to Chicago’s Thresholds Jail & Prison Program four years ago, William Riley (pictured at right), 53, says he had “given up on life.” Managing schizophrenia for most of his adulthood, Riley lived on the city streets and spent nearly every winter in jail; mostly to get out of the cold, but also to get mental health services. Since becoming part of Thresholds, Riley has not been behind bars at all and has not been in a psychiatric hospital in more than a year. He is stable, has his own apartment, and for the first time, Riley sees a future for himself.
There are thousands of people in the U.S. like Riley—people who are caught in the revolving door of the streets, arrest, incarceration, and hospitalization. Shrinking mental health resources have left many to be treated in our jails and prisons. Nationally, on any given day, about 283,000 people behind bars are known to suffer from mental illness, according to Justice Department statistics. As a result, the rate of psychiatric illness amongst the jail population surges to four times what it is among the general populace. The Thresholds Jail & Prison Program stops the revolving door, bringing treatment and stability to its clients in the community.
When inmates with mental illness are released from Chicago’s Cook County Jail or from state prisons in Dwight and Dixon, Thresholds provides the necessary aftercare. Outreach workers from the program visit former inmates in their homes (every day in some cases). They provide daily living assistance, such as money management, in addition to counseling and help staying on medication. As part of a larger parent agency, participants in the Thresholds Jail & Prison Program can also take advantage of job placement and training, among many other services. A psychiatrist and nurse are also part of the treatment team, assuring both physical and mental health.
A 2001 Loyola University Chicago study of the Thresholds program’s first 30 clients showed that the program reduced stays in jails and hospitals by more than 80 percent, saving Illinois tax payers more than $1 million in a year’s time. While treatment costs about $400 a day in a hospital and $70 a day in jail, the Thresholds Jail & Prison Program only costs about $35 a day, according to Thresholds figures.
One of the keys to the program’s success is persistence. Program outreach workers immerse themselves in the care of their clients, providing service around the clock. If a program participant turns up missing, staff will scour the streets of Chicago to find that person, at any time of the day.
“Thresholds never gave up on me,” said Ami Guerra, 43, who is now stable after more than two dozen stays in local jails and hospitals. “Thresholds got me back on the right track. My life is at a point where for the first time I feel comfortable and stable.” Guerra now has a job cleaning offices and has her own apartment.
Success stories like Guerra’s and Riley’s helped the Thresholds Jail & Prison Program earn the American Psychiatric Association’s Gold Achievement Award in 2001. With an estimated 16 percent of the nation’s prisoners struggling with mental illness, Thresholds Jail & Prison Program representatives hope its model can help others establish similar programs in other parts of the country.
For more information: Thresholds Jail & Prison Program, 4101 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, Illinois, 60613, Attention: Program Director John Fallon (773-880-6260) or www.thresholds.org.