It is estimated that, at any time in the U.S., there are 1.2 million people with mental illness who are being held either in jail or prison. Some of them, without a doubt, truly belong there. For most, though, jail and prison has become a quasi-triage center/hospital/safety net. And it takes a huge toll.
Take Cook County, Ill. for example. Sheriff Tom Dart keeps track of the mentally ill that come under his jurisdiction.
On average, at least 30% of the 12,000 inmates suffer from a “serious” mental illness, though the sheriff said the estimate is “a horrifically conservative number.” One of those inmates, Dart said, was a “chronic self-mutilator” who has been arrested more than 100 times, ringing up more than $1 million in repeated arrest- and detention-related costs.
Another inmate, the sheriff said, recently had to be fitted with a hockey mask and thick gloves resembling oven mitts to keep him from gouging out his remaining eye. The 43-year-old man, suffering bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had ripped one eye from the socket before his arrival at the jail, complaining that he “didn’t want to see evil anymore.”