Reducing recidivism: Peoria Co. Jail uses therapy to help inmates

Local News

The Peoria County Jail is the largest mental health institution in central Illinois, according to the sheriff.

It might be the largest of its kind downstate.

“The behavior health issues in our community, Peoria County, unfortunately, a lot of times they end up here at the jail,” said Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell.

But the administration isn’t sitting idle. 

Several programs have been instituted over the past seven years to help inmates with mental and behavioral health, as well as substance abuse issues.

They were launched by Asbell when he was superintendent of the jail.

What started as nothing turned into 60 hours of in-house mental health programming and four hours of a psychiatrist coming to the jail each week. Sheriff Asbell hopes to one day have 24-hour mental health care.

Some inmates, including Andrew Vervynck, says the programming works.

“A lot of people say that just coming to jail just makes their situation worse and they’re just gonna get out and just get back to what they’re doing,” explained Vervynck. “But for me, it’s been helping me.”

The 28-year-old is behind bars for a second time, locked up for aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery against his pregnant fiance.

Vervynck also has a history of substance abuse, using cocaine, crack cocaine and alcohol.

He sought help from the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program during his first time in jail.

“My job here in the jail is to help equip the inmates with skills to help manage their lives,” said clinician Robert Beach. “It helps them survive the time they spend here in the jail, as well as manage the lives outside of jail when they’re released, so they can be more productive, helpful citizens.”

Beach has worked in the jail for nearly two years, helping inmates think differently.

“I kind of created this curriculum in a way that was basic enough that someone could just come in and pick it up quickly, but also someone who’s been here a number of times continues to learn, reinforce and practice those skills,” explained Beach. “We also try to lead people to treatment. We know that an hour a week for four weeks is not going to fix somebody.”

When Vervynck was asked what jail would be like without CBT?

“I probably would’ve been in fights everyday because i would’ve been thinking negative the whole time,” he said.

Vervynck says he’d like to continue therapy when he’s released from jail Nov. 27, but he needs to speak with Beach about what’s available.

Sheriff Asbell says, that’s part of the protocol. He has set up the jail to follow a medical mode.

“Instead of just walking someone out the door and saying, ‘There you go,’ we want to have a discharge planner…scheduling them the next appointment, whether it be for medical care or mental health care, addiction, counseling,” said Asbell.

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