BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Today signals a new direction for inmates in Cook County Courts.
Thanks to a new partnership with a suburban hospital, instead of going to jail, offenders battling mental health issues are getting the help they need.
Today the first offender, Fred, graduated from the mental health court program.
After run-ins with the law, Fred was evaluated by mental health professionals at Palos Hospital for free.
Instead of going to jail, he went to therapy and got on medication.
Kirk Bergmark is an advanced practice nurse and part of the hospital's mental health help team.
“We have worked with Fred. He's done a wonderful job and worked really hard to get here today,” Bergmark said.
Judge Raymond Jagielski is the Presiding Judge at the Bridgeview courthouse where the graduation took place. He's been an advocate for alternative sentencing for years.
“Today was a great day for me too, to see the first graduate of mental court,” Judge Jagielski said.
The judge says he is grateful for his boss, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who green lighted the program in January. He also says he is just as thankful to Palos hospital for donating services the cash-strapped Cook County might otherwise not be able to provide.
“We are doing a lot better than just putting them in a cell locking them up and throwing away the key,” Judge Jagielski said.