Community leaders, sheriff aim to help mentally ill inmates - Dallas News |

Community leaders, sheriff aim to help mentally ill inmates

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Two thousand inmates in the Cook County Jail are battling some type of mental illness every day.

So, community leaders on the city's southwest side joined with the sheriff to plan ways to get people treatment and keep them out of jail.

An inmate, tormented by visions brought on by severe schizophrenia, gouged out one eye after being arrested on a parole violation in California. After being returned to the Cook County Jail, he tried to use his fingers to gouge out his other eye.

To protect him from himself, the jail had to outfit him with a hockey mask and padded mitts.

“This is one of those cases where you're left saying what more do you have to do to show the public that this is so messed up what we’re doing here,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

It may be an extreme case, but it illustrates the problem when jails become the repositories for the mentally ill.

On Monday, community and faith leaders joined the sheriff to talk about how to create community-based mental health centers -- or hubs -- to deal with the problem.

“And we believe with the help of the churches, the synagogues, faith communities, community-based organization citizens and just average citizens of the city of Chicago, we can begin to build a passage around how we build peace in this city and how we move people from being punished for their illnesses, which I think is wrong to now bringing them into a right relationship with the community and getting the help that they need,” said Reverend Robert Spicer, Community Justice for Youth Institute.

With as many as 30 percent of the jail population suffering mental health problems, the Sheriff sees the hubs as an important step.

“Under most analysis from the professionals I've talked to, this is the secret to success, is to help people to get treatment in the community, so they don't end up in our jails,” said Dart.

The meeting Monday at St. Gall church involved the idea for a pilot program to treat 75 inmates at hubs. The goal is to prevent crime by getting the mentally ill help before they break the law.

However, at this point, there is no funding.

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