An overwhelmed criminal justice system has become the de facto caretaker of Americans who are mentally ill and emotionally disturbed, says USA Today. From police departments and prisons to courthouses and jails, the care of those who are mentally ill weighs on law enforcement authorities, many of whom acknowledge they lack both resources and expertise to deal with the crushing responsibility. In a series, the newspaper will explore the human and financial costs the U.S. pays for not caring more about nearly 10 million people with serious mental illness.
About 1.2 million people in state, local and federal custody reported some kind of mental health problem, a 2006 Justice Department analysis concluded. Though the report included a broad definition of “problems” — from mere symptoms to severe illness — the numbers represented 64 percent of those in jails, 56 percent of state prison inmates and 45 percent in the federal prison system. In one of the nation’s largest detention systems, Chicago’s Cook County Jail, Sheriff Tom Dart keeps a running tally of the incoming mentally ill cases on his Twitter account.