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Mental Health Policy & Advocacy

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Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy

On any given day, between 25-30 percent of the individuals in custody at Cook County Jail suffer from mental illnesses. The majority of these individuals are in jail for nonviolent offences closely associated with their mental health issues and would be far better served by treatment rather than incarceration.

The Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy leads Sheriff Dart’s comprehensive response to the criminalization of mentally ill individuals in Cook County.

Mental Health Hotline

The Office of Mental Health Policy and Advocacy maintains a 24-hour hotline:

(773) 674-2273


(773) 674-CARE

This hotline is supported by live team members – not automated voices. The hotline serves as a resource for families and friends of mentally ill individuals in custody, 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 individuals in custody 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.

Communication Tips for Family Members

A correctional institution can be a negative and stressful environment, but positive contact with family and friends can minimize the challenges many individuals in custody face. The ways that you communicate with your loved one is important. You are encouraged to focus on creating a positive interaction by offering them encouragement, support, and a listening ear. Allow them to vent their frustrations while keeping the conversation uplifting.

Try to avoid discussing depressing topics such as death, serious injury, or health problems and family problems without arranging for support for your loved one. Prior to having such conversations with your loved one, it will be important to notify the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Mental Health Care Line at:

(773) 674-CARE


(773) 674-2273

Once contact has been made with the Care Line staff, supportive services will be arranged for your loved one who is in custody. Additionally, you are encouraged to contact the Care Line staff if you have any concerns about the potential for the individual to engage in self-harm. Your concerns may come because the individual in custody makes a concerning statement, has a sudden change in mood, or because a known anniversary date that may trigger negative emotions is on the horizon. The CCSO recognizes the importance of positive contact with family and friends and is available as a resource for guidance.

RCDC Pre-Bond Initiative

The RCDC Pre-Bond Initiative implements a program to screen arrestees during booking/processing and divert those with diagnosed mental illness to secure community based mental health services.

A Medical Advocate flags all arrestees with history of mental health housing and those that present signs of mental health problems and reports such arrestees/individuals to the daily supervising Public Defender. The Public Defender will attempt to get a lower bond for these individuals and secure a court order to house them in Cermak Health Services for mental health treatment.

The objective of this program is to develop a continuum of care for mentally ill individuals in custody with a more robust case management system.

Discharge Unit

The Discharge Unit implements procedures to identify the mentally ill individuals in custody before discharge and have a mental health liaison develop a case plan for each individual before discharge.

Within the Cook County Department of Corrections, the Records and RCDC Discharge Unit will work with the Mental Health Liaison prior to a mentally ill individual being discharged in order to identify the level of mental health care needed and create the appropriate discharge plan.

Mental Health Liaison will:

  • Conduct interviews of discharging individuals
  • Implement a process by which an individual in custody undergoes a Pre Admissions Screen before or in connection with discharge
  • Initiate a petition to transfer an individual in custody to a Mental Health Facility if the individual in custody qualifies for involuntary admission on an inpatient basis and is in need of immediate hospitalization to protect the individual or others from physical harm (Inpatient Admission by Certificate procedure)
  • Organize an appropriate discharge plan for each mentally ill individual


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