Reform of Cook County Jail
with Sheriff Thomas Dart, Cook County, Illinois
"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. Hosted by Robert Traynham.
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.
"Twenty-five million Americans pay more than half of their income to rent. A discussion with Ali Solis of Make Room
on efforts to give a voice to America's working poor and work toward a collective solution to help our economy thrive.
Interview recorded September 6, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: 11.4 million households in America spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities. And as the nation's population continues to grow, so will the number of overburdened renters. Hello, everyone and welcome to ""Comcast Newsmakers."" I'm Robert Traynham. Joining me is Ali Solis, president and CEO of Make Room. Ali, welcome to the program. It's always good to see you. Let me start off by stating the obvious -- More and more Americans feel squeezed. They're working harder for less, in terms of what they bring home. As I mentioned a few moments ago, a lot of people -- too many people -- are spending half -- half of their income on utilities and rent. How can this be
Solis: That's right. This is a growing crisis in America, where we have 25 million Americans, eight million children, two million seniors impacted by this crisis. And they are, you know, paying, as you mentioned, more than half of their income to rent. And this is a problem that's growing. By 2025, we expect that we'll have 15 million households.
Traynham: 15 million
Solis: 15 million households, and that's assuming that we can keep pace with rising rents and address --
Solis: Exactly -- rising rents and utilities.
Traynham: So, here is the magic question. How can we -- How do we address this So we know what the problem is. And what's interesting about this dilemma, I find, is that it's not that people are not working. They're working. They're contributing to society. But if they can't keep ends -- They can't make ends meet, what's the solution
Solis: Yeah. Most of these families are working, often, two and three jobs just to make rent affordable. And the problem is not just one that we're seeing in big urban centers, like San Francisco or New York, but it's affecting small towns, small communities. I was just in Erie, Pennsylvania, a place where people wouldn't think that there was an affordable rental crisis, or Detroit, Michigan. So this is a challenge that's impacting communities big and small.
Traynham: You know, Ali, I want to hit pause there for a second, 'cause I think this is really important to stress what you just said. This is not just a New York, San Francisco, Miami, you know, major metropolitan city issue. To your point, Erie, Pennsylvania, some of the rural areas in this country are also being affected by this.
Solis: That's correct.
Traynham: So let's talk a little bit about Make Room, specifically what do you do, and how can you help address this problem
Solis: So, Make Room is a national organization whose purpose is to un-hide this human suffering that's happening behind closed doors for all of these millions of Americans. We're trying to give voice to a population that isn't necessarily well represented. They are the working poor in America. And so we are sharing their stories, and we are asking overburdened renters all across the country to join us through our digital platform to be able to have regular conversations with their policymakers at the local and federal levels.
Traynham: So, you mentioned sharing stories, and for the folks that are watching this at home, or, perhaps, maybe, on their smart device, if you have a story that you would like to share, Ali, how can they do that
Solis: Well, we'd encourage you to go to www.makeroomusa.org and share your story. We provide incentives. We also provide information so that you can meet neighbors in other communities that are struggling with similar stories. And we also have policymakers engaged through the platform, as well, because it's important for them to understand what's happening in these communities. "