Reform of Cook County Jail

- 5:11

with Sheriff Thomas Dart, Cook County, Illinois


Dec 22, 2017

"According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 15% of men and 30% of women in prison have a serious mental health condition.  Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Illinois, discusses the importance of providing resources and support in communities as a preventative measure.  As the largest mental health hospital in the U.S., Cook County jail's care for patients is one that other institutions can learn and benefit from. Interview recorded November 30, 2017. 

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Traynham:   With 1/3 of its 9,000 inmates living with mental-health issues, Cook County Jail in Chicago is America's largest mental-health hospital. Recent reforms now put mental healthcare in reach for inmates in need. Hello, everyone, and welcome to ""Comcast Newsmakers."" I'm Robert Traynham. Joining me is Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Illinois. Sheriff Dart is designated as a 2017 Governing magazine Public Official of the Year. Sheriff Dart, welcome to the program.

Dart: Thanks so much for having me on.

Traynham: Let me start off by saying that I'm just a bit surprised to learn that the prison is that large. 9,000 inmates. That sounds like a very small city. Is it?

Dart:  Yeah. It is. Compared to other cities in the state of Illinois, we're, I think, the 20th largest city, if you want to call it that. We've been fortunate in we've had some bail reform -- a lot of it I pushed -- that has lowered the number somewhat dramatically, just in the last 2 or 3 months. But nonetheless, it's a lot of people incarcerated, and we're one of the largest jails in the country.

Traynham:  I want to double down on something that I mentioned a few moments ago, Sheriff Dart, and read it again. "America's largest mental-health hospital is the Cook County Jail." What's wrong with that sentence?

Dart:  You know what's wrong with that is the fact that, literally, 100 years from now or even less, people are gonna look back at us in our era and say we were horrible people, that our method of dealing with people with an illness was we threw them in jails and prisons. And it's not just Chicago by any stretch. All around the country, I think it's 46 or 47 of the states -- their largest mental-health provider is a jail or a prison. And so this stain is upon all of us, and it's something that we really need to address in a thoughtful way, because it's just plain old wrong. It's immoral.

Traynham: What is the solution?

Dart: The solutions are actually -- That's another thing that's so puzzling to me. The solutions are just so straightforward. You put resources in the community, and then people have no real need to interact with law enforcement, which gets them into the jails and the prisons. And it is an, actually, very logical thing. When you don't have those supports, people then have issues. They don't have medication. They don't have therapeutic programs to go into, and then they interact with law enforcement 'cause they're trying to survive on the street, and then they pour into our place. They aren't the ones that are shooting up people. They aren't the ones committing the horribly violent acts. They're people who are trying to survive, and our solution has been -- we dump them in prisons and jails.

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