By Gary FIelds and Erica E. Phillips
Published September 25, 2013
CHICAGO—The sound of clanging steel doors and agitated voices in the Cook County Jail bullpen was deafening. Amid the din, Robert Miller, who would turn 19 the next day, wept quietly. Anger and sullenness were common here. Uncontrolled crying was a sign of a bigger problem.
Mr. Miller was being held on a drug-possession charge and was waiting for his day in court. But his anguish caught the attention of a woman on the other side of the bars. Elli Petacque Montgomery, the jail's chief clinical social worker, listened as Mr. Miller spoke and shuddered. The teenager, who disputes the drug charge, said he had tried in vain to get help for his disabling episodes. Twice, he said, he had attempted suicide.
To get a snapshot of how the U.S. is grappling with such an explosive societal issue, The Wall Street Journal surveyed all 50 states about issues of mental health within their prison populations. Of the 22 states that provided detailed responses, their mental-health patient ratios ranged from one in 10 inmates to one in two. Inmates in all 23 responding states account for 55% of the prisoners in the U.S. under state jurisdiction.