Sep 16, 2013
Last year, Chicago closed six mental health clinics and the state closed its big mental health center in Tinley Park, a Chicago suburb. What’s happened to all the patients? Many of them wound up in jail. According to Sheriff Tom Dart, Cook County Jail in Chicago has “effectively become the largest mental health hospital in the country.”
In 2011, the average number of prisoners in Cook County Jail on a given night was 8,900, already an enormous number. This spring, the average was 9,721, and now it is often over 10,000. According to Sheriff Dart, the increase is caused in part by a huge increase in the mentally ill population of the jail. There are more than 2,000 mentally ill prisoners in the Cook County Jail, and the overcrowding is so severe that severely mentally ill inmates sometimes sleep on the floor.
One of these prisoners has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and says that he typically turns to cocaine or heroin when he can’t get medication to try and keep his mind in order. He has no job, and few prospects of getting one. “Most of the guys here are guys like me,” he said. “They come in, go out, like a revolving door.”
This is the result of the drive to balance the Chicago city and Illinois state budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable. It is a mark of a society willing to throw thousands of mentally ill people on the trash heap to free up a few more dollars to hand over to the big corporations.