Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart warned about the dangers of sending mentally ill people to jail in a nationally televised Sunday interview.
Dart, appearing on the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes," called jails and prisons "the new insane asylums" and said that the criminal justice system is not equipped to address issues of mental illness. The Cook County jail, which Dart estimated had at least 2,500 inmates with severe mental issues on the day of his CBS interview, has been called the nation's largest treatment center for mental health.
In comments similar to those he has recently made to the Tribune, Dart said the closure of state mental hospitals and the slashing of funds for community-based treatment programs has left the criminal justice system to deal with people whose actions are often clouded by severe illnesses that have gone untreated.
"The irony is so deep that you have a society that finds it wrong to have people warehoused in state mental institutions but those very same people were OK if we warehouse them in a jail," Dart told CBS correspondent Steve Kroft. "You've got to be kidding me."
The "60 Minutes" piece noted that the vast majority of people with mental illness are nonviolent, but that many recent mass shootings have been perpetrated by individuals with schizophrenia or other disorders.
"People are falling through the cracks all the time," Dart said on the program. "To think that won't then boil up at some point and end up in a tragedy – that's just naive."
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