Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Tom Dart

Sheriff

Tom Dart
(David Kidd)
tom-dart.jpg

(David Kidd)

 
America’s largest mental health hospital is the Cook County jail. With a daily population of some 9,000 inmates, it’s the biggest single-site penal facility in the country, and it’s estimated that as many as one-third of the people housed there have mental health issues. “When you walk around, you can’t help but feel you’re in the wrong place,” says Sheriff Tom Dart. “You feel like you’re in a mental health hospital. If they’re going to make it so that I am going to be the largest mental health provider, we’re going to treat these people as patients.” 

Since becoming sheriff in 2007, Dart has worked to transform the jail from a warehouse for prisoners into a facility that provides its occupants with the mental health care and resources they desperately need. Three-fifths of Dart’s correction officers have mental health training; all new incoming staff now must complete 60 hours of advanced training in mental illness treatment. In 2015, he chose a psychiatrist to be warden of the jail, said to be the first such appointment in the nation. Dart has implemented mandatory screening for behavioral and substance abuse disorders when suspects are detained, and he refers them to treatment outside the jail’s confines if they seem to need it. For those sentenced to hard time and ineligible for treatment outside, Dart instituted group therapy. To reduce recidivism, he established a 24-hour telephone hotline for ex-inmates struggling after they are released.  

Dart didn’t set out to be the sheriff of the nation’s second-largest county. In fact, he grew up wanting to be a priest. But after beginning his career as a prosecutor and then serving for a decade as a state lawmaker, Dart saw the job of sheriff as one in which he could work on the health and social welfare issues that mattered most to him.

As sheriff, Dart is also responsible for foreclosure evictions, and he has fought to limit them. As the housing crisis was cresting in 2008, he made news for refusing to process evictions against tenants he believed had been treated unfairly by lending institutions. He installed new rules that make it harder to kick out tenants when their landlords have fallen behind in their mortgage payments. His efforts won national attention; TIME magazine put him on its list of the 100 most influential Americans.

After asking what he called “basic questions” about the Illinois child welfare system, Dart realized that states often don’t try to find runaway foster kids. In 2012, he established a task force to track down children in Cook County who’ve left foster homes. “Our child welfare system does not look for these kids,” Dart says. “How can we accept that?” 

Dart is politically popular, but his tenure hasn’t been without controversy. Correctional officers’ unions have criticized him for protecting inmates at the cost of officer safety. He’s fought with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle over staffing levels. He’s been called “Sheriff Goofy” for sponsoring chess tournaments, teaching inmates to raise chickens, and allowing them to make and serve pizza to each other. But he says he wears that nickname proudly.

And the results speak for themselves. Thanks to Dart’s diversion programs, the Cook County jail population is at its lowest point in more than a decade -- a trend that could save taxpayers more than $180 million over the next 10 years.  

 -- By Mattie Quinn

 
See the rest of the 2017 public officials here. 

 

Content provided by Comcast: Robert Traynham's Newsmaker interview with Sheriff Thomas Dart - Reform of Cook County Jail.

Natalie previously covered immigrant communities and environmental justice as a bilingual reporter at CityLab and CityLab Latino. She hails from the Los Angeles area and graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English literature.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.
Sponsored
As more people get vaccinated and states begin to roll back some of the restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic — schools, agencies and workplaces are working on a plan on how to safely return to normal.
Sponsored
The solutions will be a permanent part of government even after the pandemic is over.
Sponsored
See simple ways agencies can improve the citizen engagement experience and make online work environments safer without busting the budget.
Sponsored
Whether your agency is already a well-oiled DevOps machine, or whether you’re just in the beginning stages of adopting a new software development methodology, one thing is certain: The security of your product is a top-of-mind concern.