Calling it the “final piece of the puzzle” in addressing mental illness in the huge Cook County, Il., jail, Sheriff Tom Dart appointed Nneka Jones Tapia, a clinical psychologist, to run the sprawling correctional complex, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Dart said Jones Tapia will be the first mental health professional to run a major U.S. jail. The 8,000-inmate facility is the nation’s second-largest, and more than a fourth of the inmates suffer from mental illnesses, posing security challenges and taxing county funds to treat them.
Jones Tapia has worked for the sheriff's office for two years, overseeing the jail mental health strategy. She helped launch a mental health transition center in the jail's former boot camp. It provides therapy and job training to nonviolent inmates. About 100 inmates a day are bused to the facility from the jail complex. Jones Tapia said she “grew up in the jail,” first as an intern in 2006 at the county-run Cermak Hospital on the jail grounds. One of her challenges will be to address the revolving door of mentally ill inmates who are jailed for petty crimes such as trespassing. The jail's mentally ill population has risen with the closing of mental health treatment centers. The entire correctional staff is being trained in how to recognize and respond to mental illness in inmates.