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Officers outfit an inmate with a hockey mask and thick gloves to keep him from gouging out his eye. / Handout, Cooke County Sheriff's Office

The grim story of a 35-year-old man, recently returned to an Illinois prison on a probation violation, represents much of what is wrong with the criminal justice system and its de facto role as repository for the mentally ill, law enforcement officials say.

Diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, the Illinois man was picked up late last year in Southern California. Police noted a prohibition against the man's travel outside the Chicago area.

He was detained and while awaiting transfer back to Chicago, he gouged out an eye with his fingers.

In March, after his return to Chicago, he began attacking the other eye before Cook County deputies intervened and saved him from himself, Sheriff Tom Dart said. (The inmate is not being identified because of health-related privacy restrictions.)

"He wanted to get rid of the visions,'' Dart said, recounting the inmate's psychological struggle.

With the vision in the remaining eye spared but with concern remaining that the inmate would try to repeat the self-mutilation, deputies were dispatched to a local sporting goods store for a hockey helmet - outfitted with caged face mask - and heavy, mitten-like gloves to ensure his protection.

Despite his troubled state, in May he was allowed to enter into a legal settlement, which acknowledged his mental illness, Dart said.

Instead of a treatment center, the inmate was moved - along with his hockey helmet and gloves - to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. He is eligible for parole next July.

"Here was someone horribly mentally ill, who should have been in a mental health setting, not in a jail,'' Dart said. "But that is where he's at.''



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: Chicago inmate gouges his eyes: Cost of not caring

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