Cook County Sheriff on Reducing the Jail Population

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart talks about the new county jail director and efforts to get mentally ill people treatment instead of incarcerating them. 

Tuesday, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced that clinical psychologist Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia was selected as the newest executive director of the county jail. The sheriff’s office says it believes Jones Tapia is the first mental health professional to lead a correctional facility in the United States.

“No longer can we view jails and prisons as places that happen to house mentally ill inmates – incarceration and mental health treatment have been infused, they are one and the same,” Dart said in a statement. “Dr. Jones Tapia is ideally suited to oversee the country’s largest jail and catalyze our efforts to reform the broken criminal justice system.”

Dart has long advocated for improving mental health care in jails, including the creation last year of a mental health transition center that prepares people with mental illnesses for life after incarceration. The sheriff, along with other county leaders, has been working to get the jail population to its lowest level in years – although the sheriff’s office emphasizes that it’s not only the raw number that’s important, but taking a critical look at who is incarcerated and whether it’s appropriate. 

He also announced last month that the sheriff’s office will investigate unlicensed drug rehab facilities that have taken in heroin addicts sent here by Puerto Rican authorities, a story that WBEZ broke last month after an investigation led by reporter Adriana Cardona-Maguigad.