Chicago Sheriff Has Inmates Talk About Violence

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Chicago has seen the worst violence in decades this year, with 600 people killed and 3,000 shot. Blamed in part on gangs, access to guns, poverty, and distrust of policing, the violence has seemed intractable. This year, officials launched a pilot program they hope will get at one of the roots of the problem — changing attitudes toward violence, reports the Chicago Tribune. It is called SAVE, for Sheriff’s Anti-Violence Effort. Months into the effort, officials say it’s too early to say whether it will live up to its name. On a recent morning in Cook County Jail, a few dozen inmates talked through the weekend’s shootings. The inmates, 18 to 24, live in an open dorm setting, away from the general jail tiers, and are in class or therapy six to eight hours a day. Most come from Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods and many have been on the giving and receiving end of violence. They all are awaiting trial or sentencing for felonies.

“Monday’s the hardest because they’ve just gone through the whole weekend, they’ve seen all the violence that happens,” said Elli Montgomery, the sheriff’s director of mental health policy and advocacy. “It’s like you open Pandora’s wounded box and all their s— comes out. They’re directly impacted by that violence, someone they know or a friend of a friend who’s been killed. It hits home because a lot of them are suffering from symptoms, not necessarily full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder, but they’ve been shot, they’ve witnessed people getting shot, so it triggers them.” She adds, “It’s depressing in here and it’s depressing out there. They’ll say on one hand, ‘I’m glad I’m in here’ .. Because they’re afraid they’ll be killed.” The media constantly keep count of the wounded and that encourages guys to “get their numbers up,” she says.

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