Melissa Clark sat wide-eyed and agitated in a visiting room at Cook County Jail's Cermak Hospital, rocking her right leg so vigorously that her entire body shook.
Why can't you bail me out? she repeatedly pleaded to her mother.
In a rambling answer, Melissa said no. Street drugs, not medication, were what made her feel better.
Clark eyed her daughter wearily. "Then I can't bail you out," she said.
Melissa's predicament tears at her mother. While jail is not an ideal place for a person needing psychiatric care, for now it might be the safest temporary option for Melissa, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
In the past she has wandered the streets, committed petty crimes, overdosed on heroin and been assaulted by drug dealers. Arrested for robbery at a Whole Foods store in Chicago a year ago, she has been in jail ever since.
Soon a criminal court judge will have to decide: What do we do with Melissa?
It's the kind of problem that faces families, judges, psychiatrists, law enforcement officials and mental health advocates across Illinois, and comes up frequently as people with mental illnesses spill into jails and prisons because of a dearth of community-based services.
Cook County Jail's sizable mentally ill population has transformed the detention center into Illinois' largest psychiatric facility.
About 20 percent of the jail's 9,000 or so detainees have been diagnosed as having a mental illness. A larger, undetermined number don't have a diagnosis but show symptoms of psychiatric illness, said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
"It's horribly sad on a million levels," Dart said. "This is a person who's here, not because they are quote-unquote criminal, but because they have an illness that manifests itself in doing certain acts and we are treating them like criminals."
Incarcerating people for behavior caused by their mental illnesses is costly, inhumane and doesn't make sense, mental health advocates say.
State budget cuts have made the situation worse, they say, and Dart has been considering suing the state for allowing the jail to become a dumping ground for people with serious mental illnesses.
Melissa's life began to spiral out of control during her teen years. She has cycled in and out of hospitals, jails and rehab facilities. Even though she comes from a middle-class family with resources, she is running out of options.
The family's finances have been hit hard by medical, psychiatric and legal bills, lessening relatives' ability to support Melissa. And because Melissa is an adult, she cannot be forced to participate in rehab programs or take her medications except in an emergency or under court order.
Carla Clark said jail time has been hell for her daughter, who is unable to fully understand why she is there. "I have helplessly watched her mental health deteriorate in this stressful environment," Clark said.
Melissa is being evaluated by psychiatrists to determine if she is fit for trial, but the process has been agonizingly slow.
"For what she did, it shouldn't take this long," said her brother Brandon Clark. "The waiting period is unforgivable."