A CHICAGO JAIL MIGHT BE THE LARGEST MENTAL HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IN THE U.S.
Pacific Standard by Arvind Dilawar
June 10, 2019
After Illinois cut funding for mental-health services, Cook County Jail now handles a large portion of the state's patients. A new book tells their story.
"Mental ward / is where I landed," begins a poem by Marshun, an inmate at Cook County Jail in Chicago. The poem describes Marshun's struggle with bipolar disorder, as well as his appreciation for flowers and photography. He was diagnosed before first entering Cook County Jail, where he's been an inmate on and off since he was 20 years old, but it was only during his most recent stint at 33 that he entered the Mental Health Transition Center, a program that provides inmates with mental-health services. "If I had come to this program when I was 20," Marshun says, "I wouldn't have come back to jail."
Marshun's story is just one of many that photographer Lili Kobielski captures in her recent book, I Refuse for the Devil to Take My Soul, a revealing collection of portraits and interviews from inside Cook County Jail. The facility is not only one of the largest jails in the United States, but it may also be the nation's largest mental health care provider.
Many inmates receive mental-health treatment at Cook County Jail simply because it is the provider of last resort. Beginning in 2009, the state government of Illinois crippled its health-care system, slashing nearly $114 million in funding from mental-health services and depriving 80,000 residents of access to mental-health care through budget impasses. As a result, two state-operated facilities and six city clinics closed, two-thirds of non-profit agencies in Illinois reduced or eliminated programs, and a third of Chicago's mental-health organizations lowered the number of patients they served.
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