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Mentally ill woman back in jail where she doesn’t belong

Veronica Gorlicki’s mental problems were on full display from the moment two sheriff’s deputies led her into a Cook County courtroom in Skokie last week.

Gorlicki loudly struck up a rambling conversation with Judge Michael J. Hood that soon elicited snickers from other defendants waiting for their cases to be called.

“I’m a judge and a police officer,” the 41-year-old homeless woman said as she argued why she didn’t need a lawyer to represent her. “I live in the courthouse with a judge because I’m beautiful.”

Gorlicki asked to be released, telling the judge she’d only been arrested because some guy was jealous about the lotion she put on her face. Earlier, she had complained about cannibals accosting her.

An obviously flummoxed Hood told Gorlicki he didn’t want to keep her in custody any longer than necessary, but continued her case until May 20 while ordering up a psychiatric evaluation.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying Gorlicki, arrested March 19 on a charge of criminal trespass because she was loitering in a Des Plaines trailer park, doesn’t really belong in jail.

She belongs in mental-health treatment, either in an institutional or community-based setting with lots of oversight.

But Gorlicki’s been in jail for a month, and it’s going to be at least another month before there is any chance of moving her along.

The common perception of a Cook County jail inmate is someone who is a menace to society and, indeed, there are plenty of those.

But there also are those like Gorlicki, who are more nuisance than menace and end up in jail because local police don’t have better options for handling mentally ill individuals.

Cara Smith, executive director of Cook County Jail, estimates there are probably 800 low-level offenders in the jail at any time whose alleged criminal activity is a direct result of their mental illness. Her boss, Sheriff Tom Dart, has been trying to focus public attention on the need to reform mental health care to keep these individuals out of jail.

“Once they come in, they stay,” Smith said. “The challenge becomes what do we do with them.”

Jail is an expensive way to deal with the mentally ill, and not particularly effective either.

Over the past decade, Gorlicki has been booked into Cook County Jail some 16 times stemming from 28 different arrests, spending a total of 736 days in custody.

Four of those arrests have resulted in Gorlicki being committed to state mental health hospitals.

All of Gorlicki’s arrests were misdemeanors. Most were for trespassing — walking near the Metra tracks, riding the CTA without paying — generally being where she wasn’t wanted. Often, drinking alcohol was involved.

In this latest arrest, Gorlicki was hanging out at a trailer park where a former male friend used to reside. He died in February, but she doesn’t seem to comprehend that. She was banging on the door and demanding he let her in when the management called police.

Her father, Roger Gorlicki, 76, of Buffalo Grove, said he has asked state mental health officials why they continue to release her.

“They say, ‘She’s not a danger to herself or others. We can’t keep her,’ ” said the frustrated father.

Indeed, other than occasionally being combative with arresting officers, there is no evidence of Gorlicki being any threat to the public.

Her father said Gorlicki can’t live with him because he has custody of her 12-year-old son, who was taken away from her by court order.

Roger Gorlicki said his daughter doesn’t belong in jail but cannot live independently either because she won’t take her medication and wanders off.

He said Veronica has been diagnosed as bipolar, paranoid and psychotic, but his evaluation: “She is just completely wacko.”

For him, putting her in jail has an upside.

“At least I know she’s safe and sound if she’s locked up.”

For the rest of us, there should be less solace.