Psychologist Takes Over America’s Second-Largest Jail


Reuters reported that clinical psychologist Nneka Jones Tapia has been appointed head of Chicago’s Cook County Jail, “the nation’s second-largest jail where a third of the inmates are mentally ill.”

“Having someone in a leadership position with those kinds of credentials makes a lot of sense because so many of the issues in the jail have to do with mental illness,” a representative of the John Howard Association told Reuters.

Psychologist to head Chicago jail, nation’s second largest (Reuters, May 20, 2015)


  1. The war on drugs is a holocaust that substitutes imprisonment for death.

    “Cook County houses an average of 9,000 inmates daily, of which 25 percent to 35 percent suffer from mental illness, according to a spokesman. That number has grown in recent years as the number of mental health facilities fell, jail officials said.”

    That’s total bull, that number has grown as the prison industrial complex lobbied politicians for tougher drug laws and “zero tolerance” policies to increase profits for everyone involved.

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    • Mental illness and the ensuing course of “treatment” (a.k.a torment, punishment, civil liberties loss) should be linked to socioeconomic levels. My suspicion is that you would find a strong correlation of “mentally ill” at the lower rungs of the social ladder. I have yet to hear any mainstream system point out the causal relationship that exists between “mental Illness”(human suffering) and poverty.
      I do agree with you. And, there is no one seeking to “cure” anything because mental illness is a gravy train and those in first class aren’t leaving anytime soon.

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  2. Just to give some perspective here, Cook County does have a disproportionate number of inmates with psychiatric labels. To be sure the Treatment Advocacy Center will distort Cook County using it for propaganda bent on more forced outpatient treatment but on the bright side, there are some marvelous, trauma based therapy programs for female inmates at Cook County. Not all prison psychologists are obtuse. Many realize that there is a huge difference between trauma based therapy and band aids/chemical restraints.

    You can get a flavor of the Justice programs for female inmates at Cook County here:

    Cook County also allows the female inmates to participate in a wonderful playwright program in which inmates write their life stories in the format of plays and perform them for audiences. I once tried to arrange for a local showing of Cook County Jail’s touring performance troupe but I couldn’t find a financial sponsor for their airfare/lodging.

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t have known about this project unless I had volunteered for a local justice project called The Portia Project operating in my state of Oregon. Their website is at

    The wonderful thing is that these kind of prison justice projects are sprouting up all over the US. The trend is currently for people of faith and people of color and advocates for prison justice to organize to reduce mass incarceration and reverse the negative impacts of mandatory sentencing and the racist war on drugs. They are doing this through legislation and by creating softer landings for people when they get discharged (job and housing support, access to addiction services, legal help to reunite families, etc. )

    This creates an astonishing opportunity to build important alliances because this prison justice movement has a lot more momentum currently and is a lot more organized than the movement for human rights in the mental health system.

    The prison justice movement is successfully raising the consciousness of Americans by working within communities of faith and communities of color. Before Big Pharma co-opts this movement as they did the peer movement, our leaders should be meeting with the leaders of the prison justice movement, executing intensive, educational campaigns targeted to these leaders. Education is needed to prevent pharmacology from becoming the standard of treatment for prisoners, as opposed to peer led services, talk therapy, hearing voices, etc.

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  3. I would also like to urge people to volunteer at prisons and visit prisoners, when possible. Prisons are usually located in run down, rural communities making travel for visits challenging. Families of prisoners often cannot afford the travel/lodging required to visit a loved one. If you can’t be a volunteer, consider making a donation to a family who is struggling to find the resources to visit a loved one. It will make a huge difference. Studies show that prisoners who maintain contact with family and friends, despite the enormous challenges involved do much better when they get out!!

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  4. And what better demonstration could we find of the essential oneness of the “law enforcement” and “mental health” establishments?

    To the anti-psychiatry adherents among us — when psychologists adopt medical model terminology, whether opportunistically or in earnest, they have joined the ranks of psychiatry despite their lack of an M.D. Clearly in this instance the incidence of “mental illness” in prisons is cited as the reason for choosing a “psychologist” for the position, despite the fact that many psychologists disavow the existence of “mental illness.” Semantics?

    Or does this mean that the new warden will recognize the dangers of psychiatric drugging and devote his energies to getting trauma counseling for the inmates? (If so I apologize.)

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