(CBS) – Some Cook County jail inmates are literally eating parts of the jail, and taxpayers must pay their healthcare and other costs.
CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reports.
X-rays show pieces of metal swallowed by Cook County Jail inmates.
“Who would ever think we’d be talking about this?” asks Sheriff Tom Dart, who was more concerned about stabbings, fights and fires when he first took office.
Metal-swallowing inmate Lamont Cathey alone has cost Cook County taxpayers more than $1 million, according to reports.
“Oh my God, the amount of money we have spent — both in the hospital area and then in the staff having to watch these people — I couldn’t even calculate it,” Dart says. “I know it’s in the millions.”
Cathey is currently in jail. His mother, Lorine Barber, says he has had 19 to 20 surgeries because of all the metal he has ingested, including screws and nails.
“And pieces of whatever falls off the benches, paint, he don’t [sic] care,” Barber says. “The doctor was like, ‘He’s gonna [sic] make it, if he just stops eating (expletive).”
Barber says her son needs psychological help. He is not the only inmate swallowing metal.
Jail records show multiple inmates reported swallowing screws, unidentified metal and buttons. Two reported swallowing the contents of ice packs. One inmate, bleeding from the mouth, said he swallowed a pin. Another inmate put small parts of his wheelchair in his mouth.
“I’m at a loss,” Dart says. “I don’t know how to prevent some of this stuff anymore.”
That is because inmates with no access to metal will find something to consume when they are moved for various reasons.
“They’re manipulating. They’re attempting to get out of this place,” the sheriff says.
Inmates like Cathey often get taken to outside hospitals, such as John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital for X-rays and surgery and other treatment. The outside care requires two guards to be at the hospital at all times and another for transport.
Dart calls it a “very expensive proposition.”
Overall, taxpayers spend about $77 million a year treating Cook County jail inmates. Exactly how is because of the metal-eaters is not known.