Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart appointed clinical psychologist, Nneka Jones Tapia, to run the Cook County facility. Dr. Jones Tapia will be the first mental health professional to run a major U.S. jail. This leadership change signifies the need to address mental health issues in the jail system. Compared to the general population, inmates have higher prevalence rates of certain many health disorders. A significant number of inmates suffer from mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders and substance dependence. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 75 percent of inmates were dependent on or abusing drugs or alcohol. Over 50 percent showed symptoms of mania, 30 percent major depression and 24 percent psychotic disorders.
Left untreated, inmates who leave the jail may commit subsequent crimes, especially drug related offenses. Inmates often cycle through the jail system, in part, due to inadequate treatment and social support. Additionally, Dr. Jones Tapia reported that costs to treat mental health issues in jail are significantly higher than in community settings. Mentally ill prisoners are have higher rates of misconduct and accidents in jail.
Providng counseling, medication management, and follow-up care in the community are ways in which to reduce mental health disorders among the inmate population. Appointing a psychologist to run a jail will hopefully draw attention to the mental health issues facing the inmate population, and, more importantly, identity effective treatment that will benefit both the inmates and community.