- Sheriff Tom Dart says Cook County Jail, with a population of about 7,500, has become a dumping ground for the poor and mentally ill.
- Cook County has implemented a mental health program for some inmates that is now a model for other U.S. jails and includes medication, doctor’s visits and group therapy.
- Dart’s unconventional methods have come under scrutiny as “too soft” and some corrections officers have questioned his loyalty to staff.
Chicago — with the largest number of murders last year of any major city in the country — has one of the largest jails in the country.
An average of 70,000 men and women pass thru Cook County Jail each year, many more than once and, as with other big city jails, most of the inmates who cycle through are either poor, mentally ill or members of a gang.
One of the few things Republicans and Democrats, agree on is the need for corrections reform. And Cook County is leading the way — almost by necessity — with a new approach to help break the cycle.
The county sheriff, Tom Dart, is getting a lot of the credit. A former prosecutor who’s been elected and re-elected sheriff since 2006, Dart — as you’ll see — is unconventional.
It was a cold day at Cook County Jail when we met Tom Dart. He has redefined the role of sheriff. He sees the job as not just keeping people in jail but helping some of them get out. He says many behind bars shouldn’t be there.
“OK, if they’re going to make it so that I am going to be the largest mental health provider, we’re going to be the best ones.”
Tom Dart: How are you guys doing?
Inmate: Pretty good…
Several times a month, Dart mingles with the men in the…