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Illinois lawmakers look to improve public safety through two-sided approach

The Illinois Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force met Thursday to discuss ways to improve public safety across the state by supporting more community programs and improving mental health care.

The task force met with representatives from the mental health field and leaders of youth community groups from all over the state. 

Their goal is to better improve public safety overall and limit crime. 

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, is a task force member and said the state’s budget reflects that $1 billion is being spent on violence prevention and youth programs, a sign that there are resources out there for those who need them. 

The $1 billion will go towards violence prevention, youth employment, and diversion program appropriations to deliver a multi-year investment in these programs that far exceed previous levels.

“I only read those spendings so that families in Illinois know that there is help out there for those families in need,” Ford said.

Another topic of discussion was mental health care for young people in the state. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health-related visits are up by 24% since 2020 for children ages 5 to 11, while visits by children ages 12 to 17 have gone up 31%.

Dr. Mashana Smith of the Center for Childhood Resilience said the state needs to provide more access for young people who may be dealing with mental health-related issues. 

“The data has shown us that 20% of children each year are in need of mental health services,” Smith said. “The data also has shown that only 50% of those children receive the mental health support that they need.”

This year, state lawmakers have been trying to make it easier for out-of-state mental health clinicians to get licensed in Illinois with a bill sent to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 3617 also suspends requirements for social workers, professional counselors, and clinical psychologists with licenses that have been inactive for five years. The hope is to improve care by having enough workers available. 

Some community leaders have suggested a different approach to improving public safety across the state.

Community leader and Chicago Peace Initiative Director Jeff Maxwell said their focus should shift to what’s happening on the streets in these communities. 

“We are acting like it’s academia but I got a degree in elementary education, a minor in Spanish, and a concentration in history, it is not academia,” Maxwell said. “It’s the reality of being on the ground in these communities.” 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a number of bills Thursday that he said will help slow the rate of crime in the city of Chicago. The governor and other lawmakers announced additional funding for summer jobs and mental health for youth, as well as enacting several laws that are designed to combat car jackings.

Pritzker called the signings a step in the right direction in solving the public safety crisis in Chicago.

“There is nothing more important than keeping our communities safe,” Pritzker said. “It’s why we’ve poured record funding into violence prevention and are surging additional resources to Chicago ahead of the summer. In order to help provide Illinoisans the security they deserve, we are also equipping law enforcement officers with the tools and protection they need to address rising crime rates. With these bills, we take another step towards dismantling cycles of violence that have plagued our neighborhoods for far too long.”

This article was originally posted on Illinois lawmakers look to improve public safety through two-sided approach

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