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Cook County Jail Population Exceeding 10,000 Inmates Some Days

By aaroncynic in News on Sep 13, 2013 7:00PM

Photo credit: Gary Eckstein

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s fears the county jail would be packed by the summer were realized, as the facility now houses the most inmates of any in the country. In the spring, Dart said the jail was at 96 percent capacity, with 9,721 inmates. Today, the Chicago Tribune reports the population at the prison regularly passes 10,000 on many days.

Dart blames the swelling jail population on a backlogged court system, crime crackdowns in some of the City’s most violent neighborhoods and the closure of half of Chicago’s mental health clinics last year. “We're sort of the receptacle of every conceivable problem in society here, and now the most convenient one for them to dump on us is the mentally ill,” the Sheriff told the Tribune. “There's one guy who can't say no, and that's the sheriff, so dump them on him.” The jail currently houses some 2,000 mentally ill detainees.

Officials are looking at how to handle an overload of cases in Central Bond Court, which has more than 700 cases at least two years old as well as dozens of new felony cases to process each day. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s justice advisory council did a study of the court and found no hearing lasted more than three minutes. Both Dart and Juliana Stratton, executive director for the Justice Advisory Council have questioned whether that amount of time is enough to make a decision to keep someone jailed. “In 30 or 40 seconds you can't get enough information about a defendant to make fully informed decision, said Stratton.”

One of the other large contributing factors to the inmate population at Cook County Prison are mandatory sentences for drug crimes. In April, the Chicago Reporter published a report that showed the growing number of enhanced drug laws contributed to the rise in the prison population, with 44 percent of all felony convictions in the county resulting in a prison sentence. With funding slashed in the state for treatment of both the mentally ill and substance abusers, it’s no wonder the prisons are bursting at the seams. Reginald Brown, a schizophrenic man awaiting trial on a burglary charge told the Tribune on the outside, he has no access to medication to treat his disorders, a story all too common. “Most of the guys here are guys like me, they come in, go out, like a revolving door,” he said.