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Mental illness cases swamp criminal justice system

January 28, 2017

In a series of stories in the coming months, USA TODAY will explore the human and financial costs the country pays for not caring more about the nearly 10 million Americans with serious mental illness.

About 1.2 million people in state, local and federal custody reported some kind of mental health problem, a 2006 Justice Department analysis concluded. It is among the most recent national assessments of prisoners’ mental status. Though the report included a broad definition of “problems” — from mere symptoms to severe illness — the numbers represented 64% of those in jails, 56% of state prison inmates and 45% in the federal prison system. In one of the largest detention systems in the nation, Chicago’s Cook County Jail, the problem is so persistent that Sheriff Tom Dart keeps a running tally of the incoming mentally ill cases on his Twitter account. 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.




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