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Cook County sheriff says too many mentally ill in jail

Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Daily Herald

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart
Associated Press

Daily Herald report

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, as part of his campaign to reduce what he calls unjust incarceration of the poor and mentally ill, said in a news release Wednesday that prisoners in 2015 spent a total of 218 years in the Cook County Jail in "dead days" served beyond their eventual sentence.

On Christmas Day, about 8,300 people will be in the jail, with 93 percent awaiting trial. Of those, 550 are charged solely with misdemeanors, he said. For the year, there were approximately 70,000 admissions with about 2,200 people spending the entire year in jail awaiting trial. About 8,700 people had their charges dropped. Ten babies were born to mothers.

The jail is an expensive operation for taxpayers, with 4,000 employees serving 10 million meals, 37,000 primary care visits and 14,800 psychiatric visits, he said.

Dart pointed to the success of a pilot program known as the "Rocket Docket," which ensures that nonviolent defendants charged with low-level crimes such as retail theft or criminal trespassing will have their cases disposed of within 30 days or be released pending trial. And he said due to changes, the jail no longer is overcrowded except for the hospital division for the mentally ill.

But he said too many people continue to be incarcerated pretrial, for far too long.

"As the national discourse evolves toward a smarter approach to criminal justice, I'm gratified that the public is becoming increasingly cognizant of the unjust incarceration of the mentally ill and poor," he said in the news release. "Cook County can and should serve as an example for the rest of the country in 2016, and that starts with moving toward a humane and fiscally prudent approach to this critical issue."



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