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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 —Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today the establishment of the Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy within the Cook County Sheriff’s Office as well as the launch of a 24-hour mental health hotline (773-674-2273) exclusively for ex-detainees of Cook County Jail and families of current detainees.

The Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy will centralize the Sheriff’s Office quickly expanding portfolio of mental health initiatives – including a mental health screening process at daily intake. The office is responsible for implementing progressive and compassionate policies for the jail’s mentally ill population, in addition to accommodating the needs of former detainees. Sheriff Dart is utilizing existing resources and personnel to yield this new office, making it budget neutral.

The Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy will also maintain the 24-hour hotline, which is supported by live team members – not automated voices. The hotline will serve as a resource for families and friends of mentally ill detainees, allowing them to directly connect with OMHPA team members to communicate special needs and medications for their loved ones within the jail. Additionally, the hotline is open to former inmates coping with mental illness – providing counsel and resources to ensure that they get the treatment they need to sustain a healthy life and stay out of the jail.

“When mentally ill men and women leave the jail without a plan or even a modicum of hope at getting treatment on the outside, it almost guarantees that they will fall into the same patterns of behavior that brought them to jail in the first place,” said Sheriff Dart. “This new office and the resources it brings to bear represent important steps towards shutting the revolving door between the streets and jail for Cook County’s mentally ill.”

Sheriff Dart has long decried the devolution of mental health services at both a national and state level. With nearly 10,000 detainees, Cook County Jail is the largest single site jail in the United States. The jail typically holds between 2,000-2,500 mentally ill detainees at any one time, giving it the dubious distinction of being the largest mental health institution in the country.

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