Mentally Troubled Inmate Is Literally Eating the Jail, Costs State $1 Million in Medical Bills

17-year-old Lamont Cathey, who was jailed for breaking into a pizza parlour in Chicago, is proving to be a costly inmate to handle. For the past 16 months, mentally disturbed Cathey has been consuming metal objects – ranging from toe screws to needles, to drawing pins, and even strips of leather. He has been rushed to the prison’s hospital 24 different times to have these items removed, costing the State a whopping $1.3 million!

Cathey used to be a promising basketball player until he was accused of stealing money from a safe at a pizzeria over a year ago. He is yet to go on trial, and as he waits for a sentence, he has taken to eating “anything he could get his hands on” around his cell. He reportedly swallowed parts of a security camera, tore apart a $50,000 hospital bed, and broke open a medical device to swallow the parts inside.


He has also threatened to kill himself on a number of occasions. The amount of money spent on his medical care is so far the highest that the government has spent on any inmate in recent times. According to Cook County Prison executive director Cara Smith, Cathey’s lawyers are now saying that the kid needs long-term psychiatric treatment. Unfortunately, he has been denied transfer to a psychiatric ward, and is always returned to his regular prison cell.

“This to me is a perfect example of the failure of the criminal justice system,” Smith told the media. “It’s been a crushingly sad and very frustrating case. He’s literally eating the jail.”

In fact, Cathey isn’t the only one. According to a report released last year, the number of people with mental illnesses in American prisons is 10 times more than in state psychiatric units. It seems that authorities at Cook County are facing numerous problems in trying to manage the overcrowded jail, and in taking care of psychologically disturbed inmates.


“Mental illness has effectively been criminalised in Illinois,” says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. County officials are trying to reduce the jail’s population by offering non-violent offenders the chance to ‘wait at home’ for their court dates by paying a fee or wearing an ankle-monitor. But in Cathey’s case, neither option was possible because he was unable to afford the fee, and he had cut off his ankle bracelet. So the authorities had no option but to put him back in jail.

Since then, Cathey has had additional charges piled on him, for shoving a jail guard and holding on to a contraband catheter needle. Dr. Nneka Jopes Tapia, psychologist and Cook County executive director, said that the jail environment is probably aggravating Cathey’s erratic behavior. She called him an “impressionable young man” who is relying on the jail to “parent him.” Unfortunately, 17-year-olds are charged as adults in Cook County, making it impossible for Cathey to get the supportive environment that he so desperately seems to need.

Sources: Express, Chicagoist

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