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MACON, Ga. _ The woman with the uncertain smile has an eighth-grade education, no permanent address and a head full of schizophrenic delusions.
"Let me tell you about the Force," she says. "I call it the Force: Something that makes me do things, and I can't stop [superscript one]til I do it."
The Force has been her constant companion since she was 17, when she descended into paranoid schizophrenia. The petite woman, who wears her short hair in tiny braids, is now 40 and homeless. As best she can recall, she has been treated four or five times at Central State Hospital. Prompted by her invisible tormenter, she often says and does bizarre things. She is bad about fighting and stealing.
When she takes the antipsychotic medication Zyprexa, the Force loses its power. She is lucid, calm and friendly.
She is taking Zyprexa now _ but only because she is in the Bibb County jail.
The woman, who asked that her name not be used in this article, is among thousands of Georgians with mental illness who are in jail or prison instead of under treatment in Georgia's public mental health system.
She represents a growing concern for police as well as mental health authorities. Jail and prison administrators across Georgia say they are holding far more mentally ill inmates today than a decade ago _ people with costly, complicated medical problems that present a financial burden and a liability to law enforcement.
At any given time, according to Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena, about 150 of the 585 inmates in the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center have a mental illness, a substance abuse problem or both. Of those 150, nearly 40 have a mental illness by itself. Some are chronic repeat offenders in jail on minor charges.
The situation is similar throughout the state:
_ An estimated 4,700 inmates in Georgia's county jails have a mental illness. Jail administrators say their mental illness rolls have risen sharply over the past decade.
_ Georgia Department of Corrections officials say at least 6,000 of the 46,000 …