Mentally ill inmates who are able to shower, eat, sit quietly and otherwise care for themselves live in the jail's Division 2. Elli Petacque Montgomery with the Cook County Sheriff's Office assesses a new inmate for mental illness.
A psychologist is stationed right outside the room, and officers are specially trained to deal with psychotic episodes. If they then don't get released, the jail will separate the mentally ill from the other inmates.
With 10,000 inmates, this place is a small city — except a third of the people here are mentally ill. Dart has created some of the most innovative programs in the country to handle mentally ill inmates, hiring doctors and psychologists, and training staff. Fifty years ago, states began shutting down asylums in favor of community mental health centers.
It was a major policy shift in mental health, allowing patients to go home and live independently.


Over the past decade, though, states have cut billions from their mental health budgets, shuttering clinics across the country. In many cases, it has sent the mentally ill right back where they started — locked up in facilities that are ill-equipped to help them. You can see the problem every morning in the intake center in Cook County, where 250 new inmates, arrested overnight, are stuffed into bullpens. It's not the hostile, angry men at the front of the cages, bickering with jail staff and pushing each other for more elbow room that interest her. It's the men in the corners — men who come to jail and manage, despite the noise and commotion, to fall asleep. Police have picked them up for small crimes like acting out in front of restaurants, sleeping in abandoned buildings or possessing drugs. While these men are here, the jail's responsibility is to keep other inmates from hurting them, and them from hurting themselves.
But jail staff say what really happens deep inside this jail is a far cry from actual treatment.


In the face of budget shortfalls, Chicago officials closed six of the area's 12 mental health clinics in the past three years.
The jail's chief psychologist, Kenya Key, steps inside a small, dark room behind the community area.
But they say the only other option is to lock the mentally ill in solitary confinement for weeks on end. And this is one of the few in the country with doctors and nurses, psychologists and correctional officers trained in how to handle psychotic episodes.
Still, Sheriff Dart says he's confused by the compliments he hears from other jail administrators.



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