Reporting Mike Puccinelli
CHICAGO (CBS) — Sheriff Tom Dart says he wants you to be shocked by it because he says it proves there are people behind bars who should not be there.
CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli has more in this original report.
In the video, Cook County Jail officers were greeted with screaming when they opened a cell to check on a mentally ill inmate. What you can’t see in real time is that the inmate scales a balcony fence and leaps off the second floor. He is then seen on the lower level trying to get out of the secure area. It’s dangerous behavior that Sheriff Tom Dart says is common in a jail.
“This is every day. This isn’t unique,” said Dart.
And neither is what one inmate did when she smeared her cell door with feces. When correctional officers approach she does a flip off the bed.
She’s been in and out of detention since she was a child. Sheriff Dart says what she really needs is comprehensive mental health treatment.
“The heart of it is that we are not a mental health facility. These people shouldn’t be here,” said Dart.
Another man was on a jail bus when he began licking the seats, then he got down on his stomach and began licking the floor.
When asked why he released the video, Dart responded, “The only way to get people to understand that is to in fact show them, demonstrate. This is just our average type of day.”
An average day that he says is disgraceful financially and morally.
“These people by and large are not criminals. They are people with mental illness and when they act up they end up in jails because it’s the only place that will take ‘em,” said Dart.
That’s earned Cook County Jail an unwanted title.
“We have the distinction of being the largest mental health hospital in the country right now and we are not a hospital,” said Dart.
And he says lawmakers who have failed to adequately fund mental health treatment are to blame.
“And if they say we didn’t cut program, but the programs aren’t funded as much, you’re to blame,” said Dart.
But next month, Dart is starting a new screening program with “Be Well Partners in Health.” Its Director, Sharon Sidell, said the program could be revolutionary.
According to Sidell, people who would normally be checked into jail would instead be directed into the program.
When asked if it would save taxpayers money, Sidell responded, “Absolutely.”
The program screens non-violent suspects as they come into jail, determining who is mentally ill and then potentially providing low income housing and treatment before they ever spend a night in the slammer.
“It will be groundbreaking in the state,” said Siddell. “Possibly in the country.”
The cost of about $85 a day versus hundreds in the jail.
Experts say up to one-third of the county’s jail inmates are mentally ill.
Those inmates typically stay in jail twice as long and at three times the daily cost of housing a regular prisoner.
So if all goes well, some of those deemed mentally ill could be sent into treatment instead of jail beginning next month.
The hope is that hundreds and possibly thousands of inmates will eventually be admitted into the program.