Cook County, Il., Sheriff Tom Dart says society has cast aside the mentally ill, which is one reason why the prisons are overcrowded in Illinois, reports the Chicago Defender. “Society doesn't want to fund mental health [programs],” he said. The Cook County Jail is the largest mental health facility in the U.S. with 30-35 percent of its 9,000 daily population living with a serious mental illness, Dart said. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed in his first budget to consolidate the city's mental health clinics to save money. The City Council unanimously approved and in 2012, a dozen of Chicago's mental health facilities were cut in half.
Dart said many inmates end up in prison for nonviolent offenses like not getting off a public transit train or bus because it's cold outside or stealing food or clothes because they have nothing. In 2013, 1,265 men were placed in the mental health unit on low-level drug-related offenses. With the recent funding cuts for programs that have helped those individuals in the past, many end up in the streets with no help. “What is the one place where they can't say no? Clinics can close the doors, but I can't say no,” Dart said.