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Group Wants Referendum Asking State For More Money To Treat Mentally Ill

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A group wants to ask Cook County voters next year if the state should shift more dollars towards the treatment of the mentally ill.

A group of politicians, ministers and mental health experts stood on the Cook County Jail grounds this morning and proposed a referendum for the November 2014 ballot.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has amped up talk recently that the mentally ill make up a sizable percentage of the number of detainees in Cook County Jail when they really belong in a mental health facility or hospital.

Congressman Danny Davis says fewer people would wind up returning to the jail, as they do, if they had better access to mental health treatment.

He says, “I don’t think we’re talking about a lot of additional use of money. We’re just talking about…if you keep looking at it…you squeeze it….dice it…slice it….you do everything you can to get the most mileage out of it.”

State Senator Mattie Hunter says it’s “ridiculous” that the state of Illinois has cut nearly $200 million from mental health programs.

Richard Boykin, candidate for Cook County Board of Commissioners says that, “To send people to Cook County Jail for mental health services is the wrong thing to do.”

Boykin was the first person to sign one of the referendum petitions.

The referendum reads: “Shall the General Assembly of the State of Illinois appropriate additional funds to provide necessary mental health services for the people of the State of Illinois?”

Dr. Rashad Saafir, president of the Bobby Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center spoke at the news conference and said that, he witnesses, “firsthand the devastation caused in the lives of people who are not receiving mental health services.”

Saafir says children who live in dangerous neighborhoods are being traumatized in their own communities and are eventually likely to be labeled as having some form of severe mental health illness which could have been addressed early-on if there had been money made available.

A spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says the sheriff supports the referendum effort but that Dart could not attend the news conference because he was spending Columbus Day with his family.

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