COOK COUNTY SHERIFF Tom Dart is providing unprecedented courses and programs to scores of veterans housed at the Cook County Department of Corrections including trade courses, professional counseling, substance abuse programs, as well as partnering with community groups that prepare housing and job training upon their release.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart may be one of the most caring sheriffs in America especially when it comes to providing services for the scores of veterans in his custody.
Noticing more veterans were being arrested and sent to the Cook County Department of Corrections, Dart began providing a menu of courses and self-help, second chance programs aimed at reducing recidivism and an easier transition to society upon release. He partners with community groups that offer these programs and VA services.
Sheriff Dart has a heart not only for veterans in his custody but also for missing persons labeled cold cases that some may have forgotten like Linzene Franklin, 61, missing since 2011. It was Dart’s task force on missing person cases that found her. She was one of 84 missing unidentified persons buried in Mount Olivet. Because of his passion to serve, grave number 5112013 has a name, Linzene Franklin, and her daughter now has closure.
That is the same spirit Sheriff Dart has for the veterans who are arrested and housed in his care. Besides drug counseling programs, Dart offers a myriad of courses and programs for the veterans who are kept together in the Veterans Tier located in Division 6 he created in 2013.
“We have found that housing veterans together builds camaraderie among the men, and participants appreciate the immediate bond they have with each other due to their shared military experience,” Dart told the Chicago Crusader. “It also helps reinforce programming because they can practice what they learn with each other outside the classroom setting.”
When asked what kind of crimes did the veterans commit, Dart said, “Unfortunately, many veterans wind up in jail for crimes that are related to their struggle to find help for mental illness or substance use disorders.”
Of the 35 veterans housed in the Veterans Tier, Dart said, “Our mission is to connect them with services and resources that will enable them to lead healthy and fulfilling lives when they eventually return home.”
Asked if there are any women veterans in his custody, Dart said there were only four who have self-identified as being a veteran. Due to the low census, they are not housed in a separate location but are offered any veterans assistance they may need.” Currently, housed at the Jail are veterans from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army and the Coast Guard.
When asked what kind of services he provides to veterans, Sheriff Dart explained, “They are provided a wide range of programs and services while in custody from substance abuse counseling to assistance with obtaining important records from the Veterans Administration regarding their service.
“These records, which many veterans have lost over the years, are vitally important to enable them to obtain employment, housing, medical/mental health benefits, and family support upon release. For those who are accepted and meet the court’s qualifications, they are also able to participate in Veterans Court,” Dart stated.
Asked if he has speakers from the military to talk to the veterans, Dart said he does and they assist veterans who may have questions on “how to navigate through services provided by the V.A. “
Because of concern about their mental health and the possibility of suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), veterans are provided psychiatrists and/or social workers to talk. “Veterans in custody at the jail have regular access to substance abuse counselors as well as social workers and mental health professionals,” Dart added.
Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) also visits the jail not only to talk to the veterans but he brings supporters offering second chance opportunities including job training once they are released.