Respond to Violence: The Importance of Mental Health

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Governors State hosted the 5th installment of Respond to Violence on November 1st. This year’s topic focused on the connotations mental health carries and the treatment of mental health in the United States prison system.

While the conversation spoke about how negatively mental health is portrayed in crime and the prison system on a national level, every positive change starts locally. Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart and Licensed Clinical Psychologist & Executive Director of the Cook County Department of Corrections Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia spoke about the changes they are implementing into the Cook County Jail.

While the conversation was lead by Correspondent of Chicago Tonight WTTW Brandis Friedman in a newsroom style interview, the audience was extremely engaged.

The 50 minute long conversation discussed how many inmates suffer from a mental illness, how a crime status is being thrust upon mentally ill people for nonviolent offenses, what programs are being initiated to help mentally ill convicts, and how they are going forward.

Most interestingly enough, Sheriff Dart mentioned how mentally ill people will commit nonviolent offenses such as not leaving the bus, trying to stay the night at O’Hare because the shelters are full or have shut down, yet, they are prosecuted and convicted. He mentioned how mental illness is an illness. He asked the question akin to “What’s next? Are we going to start convicting people with diabetes because they’re sick too?”. When speaking about locking up mentally ill people in a concrete cell among many other questionable decisions the jail enforces, the sheriff would often say “my eight year old comes up with better solutions”.

Dr. Jones talked about the lasting effects of mental health treatment and why it is so critical for inmates to continue treatment once they are discharged. She mentioned how crime has lowered in areas where the county has opened mental health clinics. She talked about how inmates are encouraged to reach out to the county jail if they need to continue their treatment or need transportation to their preferred clinic.

Respond to Violence creator Yevette Brown said this particular topic was Chosen because “Cook County Jail has become the LARGEST mental health facility in the country. This has occurred because of the lack of readily available treatment facilities for our citizens struggling with mental health.  If we properly treated those with mental issues,  many of those incarcerated would not be there. I felt it was important to bring attention and understanding to this crisis, so as a society we could work on solutions to assist and destigmatize those with mental illness”.

She continued with how she wants Respond to Violence to progress. “Respond to Violence is an ongoing multimedia initiative of the university with a website designed to be the face of the project and to give voice to those impacted by violence,” Brown said. She elaborated, “It is my hope that we will continue to explore the many important topics associated with violence by working across programs, with our students, and with our surrounding community. I would also like to see  the Respond to Violence website grow with content accessible to those working on the violence issue”.

Students can visit the Respond to VIolence website at where they can rewatch previous Respond to Violence talks or the newest one.

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Respond to Violence: The Importance of Mental Health