Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Tuesday announced he'd named a clinical psychologist to run the jail in Chicago — saying he believes she's the first mental health professional to run a jail in the nation.
Dart announced the promotion of Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia via a news release. She previously was the jail's first assistant executive director.
"No longer can we view jails and prisons as places that happen to house mentally ill inmates – incarceration and mental health treatment have been infused, they are one and the same," said Sheriff Dart. "Dr. Jones Tapia is ideally suited to oversee the country’s largest jail and catalyze our efforts to reform the broken criminal justice system."
The Cook County Jail is one of the largest in the country. Dart has complained that the lack of mental health treatment programs has turned his jail and others into dumping grounds for the mentally ill.
Dart said that means the job of holding inmates and providing mental health treatment "are one in the same."
"Sheriff Dart understands that pre-trial detention in jails should be reserved for violent and dangerous offenders, not poor, sick and nonviolent individuals who need treatment," said Tapia. "I look forwarding to furthering our social justice mission in this exciting new capacity.”
The American Jail Association said it knows of no other mental health professional running a jail.