Chicago Sheriff: Warehousing Mentally Ill In Jail “Ridiculously Stupid”


In the Cook County, Ill., jail, where one third of the 10,000 inmates are mentally ill, Sheriff Tom Dart has created some of the most innovative programs in the U.S. to deal with them, hiring doctors and psychologists, and training staff. If you ask at the jail, it’s barely managing, NPR reports. “I can’t conceive of anything more ridiculously stupid by government than to do what we’re doing right now,” Dart says.

“You see people who are so profoundly ill that you understand that this is not the place for them,” says Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, head of mental health for the jail. Here and throughout much of the nation, there’s nowhere else for them to go. City and state governments nationwide have cut funding for mental health services. In the face of budget shortfalls, Six of the Chicago area’s 12 mental health clinics have closed in the past three years. Illinois closed three of the area’s state hospitals. Private clinics are struggling for funding. Dart is confused by the compliments he hears from other jail administrators. “On the one hand they’re speaking so highly about what you’re doing,” he says, “but it’s depressing as hell when they tell you you’re the leader. I feel as if we’re doing the bare minimum, and we’re the leaders? No, this is not good.”

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