Cook County jail overcrowding: inmate population almost at maximum capacity

by Sami Azhari on March 3, 2013

Cook County Jail Overcrowding

Sheriff Tom Dart is concerned because the while the jail is not yet at capacity right now, the Cook County jail population swells during the summer months when more offenders are arrested.

The highest-ever number of prisoners was 11,000 in the year 2002. The overcrowding led to inmates sleeping on concrete floors and trading off sleeping times on beds.

Conditions at the jail are under monitoring by federal authorities. In the past, conditions were so deplorable that a federal judge ordered the sheriff to improve conditions at the jail. Inmates filed a class action lawsuit in 1974 complaining that the overcrowding violated their civil rights. It resulted in an order called the Duran consent decree binding all parties.

Inmates at the jail are held on bond set by judges in the Circuit Court of Cook County, or held on warrants from other jurisdictions while waiting for transport (eg, extradition). Defendants convicted of misdemeanors serve their sentences at the jail, but felony offenders serve theirs at the Illinois Department of Corrections.

US District Court Judge Virginia Kendall oversees the consent decree and has ordered the sheriff and Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans to file statements on reducing the population through electronic monitoring.

Electronic monitoring, called EM for short, is available for prisoners who cannot post bond on non-violent offenses. These inmates are released to home confinement with an ankle bracelet.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants more inmates to be placed on EM as a cost-saving measure. Preckwinkle has criticized judges for setting bond too high.

“The unfortunate truth is that our judges have shown a reluctance to set bond at an amount that people can actually pay,” she added.

Illinois law provides a procedure for the release of offenders prior to trial on recognizance (called an I-bond or signature bond):

When from all the circumstances the court is of the opinion that the defendant will appear as required either before or after conviction and the defendant will not pose a danger to any person or the community and that the defendant will comply with all conditions of bond, which shall include the defendant’s current address with a written admonishment to the defendant that he or she must comply with the provisions of Section 110-12 of this Code regarding any change in his or her address, the defendant may be released on his or her own recognizance.

See 725 ILCS 5/110-2.

When the judge determines that it is appropriate to require the offender to post bond (called a deposit bond or D bond), the court is guided by the following:

The amount of bail shall be:

(1) Sufficient to assure compliance with the conditions set forth in the bail bond, which shall include the defendant’s current address with a written admonishment to the defendant that he or she must comply with the provisions of Section 110-12 regarding any change in his or her address. The defendant’s address shall at all times remain a matter of public record with the clerk of the court.

(2) Not oppressive.

(3) Considerate of the financial ability of the accused.

(4) When a person is charged with a drug related offense involving possession or delivery of cannabis or possession or delivery of a controlled substance as defined in the Cannabis Control Act, the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, or the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act, the full street value of the drugs seized shall be considered. “Street value” shall be determined by the court on the basis of a proffer by the State based upon reliable information of a law enforcement official contained in a written report as to the amount seized and such proffer may be used by the court as to the current street value of the smallest unit of the drug seized.

See 725 ILCS 5/110-5(b).

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