Families and friends came out to the Winnebago County Courthouse on Wednesday evening to honor their loved ones who participated in the 19th graduation ceremony of the Winnebago County Therapeutic Intervention Program.
The program is designed to give non-violent offenders a second chance. It's for people battling a mental illness who found themselves behind bars because of their disease.
"I'm not going to say that I would have killed; I don't know if I would have killed myself. I just know if I wouldn't be sitting here today," said TIP Court participant Barbara Rader.
In 1978, Rader learned she was bipolar. The 61-year-old experienced several manic phases throughout the years and one of them landed her in jail.
"I didn't feel the police officer was paying enough attention to me or listening to what I had to say," Rader said. "I tried to get his attention by reaching toward him, kind of jumping toward him, but I went toward his gun. So I got arrested and charged with attempting to disarm a police officer."
Rader served 3 months in jail for that incident.
"I came out homeless, I came out with a felony," Rader said. "Things weren't looking good at all."
But then Rader got an opportunity to enroll in the Winnebago County Therapeutic Intervention Program, also known as TIP Court. It's purpose is to reduce crime by keeping people with mental health issues, like Rader, out of jail.
"If we are offering them treatment and helping them maintain a treatment regiment and achieve recovery they don't cycle in and out of our jail," said Problem-Solving Courts Division Presiding Judge Janet Holmgren.
That's something Holmgren says also saves taxpayers money.
"They will be back in our community, even if we do send them to prison and come back," Holmgren said. "So we might as well do our best to try and restore them to some sort of productivity."
Rader joined TIP Court 2 years ago and on Wednesday night, her efforts finally paid off. She was able to graduate and has found herself in a new phase of life.
"I probably would have been back in jail, who knows, but the program came at the right time," Rader said. "It grabbed me when I needed it most."
Five others successfully completed the program and were able to participate in the ceremony.