Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jails ought not serve as our primary care facilities for persons with mental illnesses

This is a student’s editorial written as an open letter to our governor:

Governor Rauner,
Are you aware of how many residents in the state of Illinois are in jail or prison because they suffer from a mental illness? As of December of 2015, there are 11,000 mentally ill persons in our jails and prison systems that need care rather than a punishment (Tribune Wire Reports, 2015). This means we are paying not only to house these persons as inmates, but also for their mental health care. If we were to place those who are mentally ill in a treatment clinic center rather than jail or prison we would be paying a tenth of the current cost. That is, community mental health centers can treat persons with mental illness for a fraction (about 10%) of the costs to our state when we fail to treat those people, they commit crimes, and our justice system and corrections system then must take care of them. I attended the recent Advocacy Day in early April presented by the Illinois chapter of the NASW where we discussed the lack of a budget and the cost that are building up due to lack of a budget. Sheriff Thomas J. Dart of Cook County spoke to us about the crowding of persons with mental illnesses in his Cook County Jail. 

There are so many options to save the residents of our state money and to create money to actually pay and fund a budget that is either proposed by yourself or the other members of the Illinois government. You and others in the General Assembly ought to be creative in thinking about what policies can save taxpayers money in the long-run, and sometimes it will be wise to invest state spending in some areas, like education or mental health care, because in the long run those public expenditures save public money or raise revenue by avoiding costs associated with incarcerating so many people.  By changing the housing of those with an illness to treat the illness, we can create jobs, lower public spending, and open up more resources. Just in Cook County’s jail, on a daily basis there is a 25% housing rate for mentally ill persons (according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy). This is one jail, representing one county in our state. If this statistic is true for all jails in the state, we are looking at thousands of mentally ill persons who are not getting treatment in the best environment, eating money of the state, taking up time for people who should be dealing with criminals rather than dealing out medications, or getting medical care for an inmate. Think of it, a quarter of the inmates in Illinois jails and prisons (!) There are more people in jail and prison than in our hospitals with medical needs regarding mental health (‘New study finds more mentally ill people in jail and prison than in hospitals’, 2016).

In order for Cook County to deal with the large numbers of mentally ill inmates they have created a program to assist care for those individuals (Collins, 2015). This has become one of the top mental health facilities in the state and it’s in a jail. There is no need for this to exist, let alone lead in treatment for the state. This is backwards from how the system should work. 

We need to put more effort into bettering our mental health clinics, homes, and centers including the treatment in hospitals. Our department of corrections system should not be shouldering out mentally ill persons and treating them as convicts. They should instead be given help, guidance and medical treatment to better their lives. 


New study finds more mentally ill people in jail and prison than in hospitals. (2016). Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Cook County Sheriff’s Office of Mental Health Policy & Advocacy. Office of mental health policy and advocacy. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Collins, S. P. K. (2015, September 18). What happened when an Illinois county rehabilitated mentally ill offenders through treatment. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

Tribune Wire Reports, (2015, December 24). Illinois settles class-action suit on mentally ill inmates. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

No comments: