University Park, IL,
15:03 PM

Respond to Violence Looks at Mental Health Within the Justice System

According to Sheriff Thomas Dart, Cook County Jail is "the largest mental health facility in the country." Dart, whose work with inmate populations has set a new precedent for addressing rehabilitation and reducing recidivismthe tendency of arrested persons to re-offend and land back in custodywas one of the featured guests for this year's Respond to Violence, an annual program sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement at Governors State University. Nneka Jones Tapia, a clinical psychologist appointed warden in 2015, joined Dart for the discussion moderated by Chicago Tonight's Brandis Friedman.

University leaders stand on the set of Respond to Violence with Thomas Dart and Nneka Jones TapiaTheir approach is unique, but it fits right in with GSU's push toward equity and restorative justice. Dart and his warden have made landmark strides in reforming the jail system by identifying inmates' mental health needs as well as pinpointing how poverty creates an imbalance in the justice system, and neither are shy about criticizing the "old way" of doing things.

"If we wanted to dream up the most inefficient, most expensive system," Dart said, "...we nailed it. People suggest we're out of our lane, but we're supposed to be doing things to make the community better."

Jones Tapia added, "It was almost like clockwork having someone come back to the institution. They leave at their best and return at their worst ... [when inmates get out] they can't get medication, can't get a job ... [we want to] increase the likelihood of success when people leave our custody."

One of the keys to this new way of viewing and administering justice, according to both Dart and Jones Tapia, is following through with after-care. They connect former inmates with community resourcescounselors, transportation, medical careand they maintain an open-door policy: released individuals can come back for classes at the jail. 

Yevette Brown, the force behind Respond to Violence and a full professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Division of Communication-Visual and Performing Arts, brought the pair in to shed light on the problem and their proposed solutions.

Yevette Brown greets Sheriff Tom Dart at GSUBrown says she created Respond to Violence "to give voice to those impacted by various forms of violence." The program's site—R2V, as she calls it—"forms an online community," according to Brown, "where local and national resources are made available ... leverages media and internet technologies to create a virtual public square for discourse on violence, stimulating individual and collective action."

Filmed in one of the university's Digital Learning and Media Design studios, the annual program lasts for one hour and draws faculty, students, and even the university's president, Dr. Elaine P. Maimon.

"Programs like this one," Dr. Maimon said, "are just one of the many ways that Governors State partners with the community and the state to keep the dialogue open and bring positive change to our region."

Past years have focused on sexual assault and community violence, among other themes. Brown broadcasts passion for the program, leaning forward and intoning her words emphatically when she talks about it.

"We have to discuss these issues," she said. "There is great value in bringing these topics into the conversation with our students, our peers, and our community. Violence is far-reaching and broad. It impacts all of us in some way, and in order to stop it, we need to talk about it and act."