Proposed assault weapons ban draws more fire

By Denise Jackson

February 12, 2013 Updated Feb 12, 2013 at 10:43 PM CDT

BLOOMINGTON,Ill. -- President Obama has proposed legislation that cracks down on the use of assault weapons and it has drawn fire from several local law enforcement officials.

The Illinois Sheriff's Association said the focus should be on helping the mentally ill. McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said a jail capacity of 240 does not leave much space to house a growing population of inmates needing mental health treatment.

Right now they are using a portion of the booking area to house those inmates in isolation. Emery said, with the proper treatment, some may not have committed crimes.

"We need to do a better job in helping these individuals get them back into competency, restore them to competency, make them mentally healthy, maybe we won't have these mass shootings, killings," said Emery.

Emery and members of the Illinois Sheriff's Association said mass shootings, like the one in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado, may have been prevented. Instead of a crackdown on the use of assault weapons, they would like to see more services to help the mentally ill.

Tazewell County Sheriff Bob Huston said staffing and housing mental health inmates poses a real challenge for the jail and staff adding state budget cuts worsen the problem.

"In Illinois for example we've just closed two prisons, we've abolished the death penalty, they looking at an early release program. We haven't been able to get people in a mental health facility for years in a timely basis," Huston said.

Sheriff Emery said with very little room in the jail and limited outside treatment facilities, there are not many options for mental health inmates.

The sheriffs both said county jails continue to hold inmates who have been remanded to the state mental health facility for treatment, with some waiting several months at a time.

To submit a comment on this article, your email address is required. We respect your privacy and your email will not be visible to others nor will it be added to any email lists.