Dart: ‘We’re criminalizing mental health’

But the sheriff isn’t backing calls for Chicago to reopen six clinics it closed this spring.

September 5, 2012

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WBEZ/Chip Mitchell
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart addresses a Logan Square forum about the clinics Wednesday night.
WBEZ/Chip Mitchell
Health-care advocates welcome him but, later, Dart tells WBEZ he doesn’t support their demand.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says mentally ill jail inmates are overwhelming his staff. For now, though, he’s not backing calls for Chicago to reopen six mental-health clinics it closed this spring.

At a Logan Square forum about the clinics Wednesday night, Dart said too many people with mental illnesses lacked professional care. “When we don’t fund services properly, they end up in my jail,” he said.

“What we are, in fact, doing is criminalizing mental health,” Dart said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

The audience, packed into a church near one of the shuttered clinics, burst into applause.

The forum’s organizers handed out a press release that said Dart supported their calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to reopen and fully staff the clinics.

Later, however, Dart told WBEZ he wasn’t making any demands.

“What I want is a thorough plan that we’re going to be advocating for,” Dart said. “Could it involve more clinics? Could be. Could it involve more state money being funded for specific services? Could be. Literally nothing is off the table.”

Dart said his office would come up with that plan by year’s end.