New Program Gives Justice-Involved Persons Living with Serious Mental Illness Free Legal Support

Justice-involved individuals living with serious mental illness now have access to civil legal assistance, thanks to a new partnership between Legal Council for Health Justice and Thresholds.

Under the partnership, individuals with serious mental illness who are served by Thresholds’ Justice Program now have access to free, trauma-informed benefits advocacy. Individuals with serious mental illness have an especially difficult experience navigating the process of applying for Social Security disability. On any given day, between 25-30 percent of the individuals at Cook County Jail struggle with a mental illness. For those living with serious mental illnesses and leaving the jail, expediting access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability (SSDI) can help stabilize ex-offenders when they are most at risk of relapse and reoffending.

A stable source of income is critical in combating recidivism and improving a person’s health, welfare, and quality of life. Studies show it is the most influential social determinant of health. This new partnership targets individuals who are among the highest cost drivers of medical, criminal justice, and social service costs, and prioritizes access to a unique model of civil legal aid to improve the chances of receiving a steady income and end the cycle of incarceration and homelessness.

  • Nationally, 20 percent of jail inmates are living with a serious mental illness.
  • The average stay for inmates with mental illnesses in jail is longer than for inmates without mental illnesses.
  • In one study, jail inmates with mental illnesses were twice as likely to be charged with facility rule violations.
  • Many inmates with mental illnesses are in jail longer because they find it difficult to understand and follow jail rules.
  • Inmates with mental illnesses are also often held for months awaiting the availability of a bed in a psychiatric hospital.
  • Inmates with mental illnesses cost more than those without mental illnesses for a variety of reasons, including increased staffing needs.

Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLPs) offer a collaborative solution for individuals facing barriers due to medical conditions. Service providers at Thresholds refer individuals to Legal Council to receive legal support with their application and appeals for Social Security disability benefits. The services of a dedicated attorney are provided in the community and on-site at Cook County Jail alongside the Justice team and continue until a resolution is reached.

Legal Council for Health Justice uses the power of the law to secure dignity, opportunity, and well-being for people facing barriers due to illness and disability. Legal Council partners with health and hospital systems to train and support the care provider network, provide direct representation to referred patients, and conduct systemic advocacy to promote health equity among populations facing chronic, disabling, and stigmatizing health and social conditions. Find out more at

Thresholds provides healthcare, housing, and hope for more than 15,000 persons with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in Illinois each year. Through care, employment, advocacy, and housing, Thresholds assists and inspires people with mental illnesses to reclaim their lives. Thresholds offers 30 innovative programs at more than 100 locations throughout Chicago, the adjacent suburbs, and nine surrounding counties. Find out more at

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