Visitation at Cook County Jail – Part 3

Cook County Jail is one of the largest single-site jails in the nation, occupying 96 acres on the city’s West Side. Most inmates are housed at the jail for only a short period of time before receiving a trial or being bailed out. It is common, however, for some inmates to spend months and in some cases even years in the jail before they are released or sent to prison. Receiving visits during incarceration can be incredibly beneficial for the morale of an inmate and their loved ones. Unfortunately, the process is often complicated, inconvenient and exhausting.

To find out more about  visiting an inmate at Cook County Jail, Cook County Justice Watch spoke to Patty Cloud, a member of Progressive Community Church. Patty has been visiting incarcerated members of the church’s congregation since 2011, and is involved in religious volunteer work in the Cook County DOC. In the first segment of this series,  Patty talked about the process of being cleared for visitation, which involves locating the inmate and being placed on their visitor list, submitting a visitor application and clearing a background check. In the second segment, she talked about visiting day and the process of conducting a conversation with an inmate through a metal grate that prohibits eye contact while speaking.

In the third and final segment of this series, Patti talks about just a few of the many obstacles she encountered while visiting or attempting to visit inmates and some improvements she feels could make visitation easier.

 

In this interview, she talks about the difficulty that older visitors may have navigating lengthy walks from check-in kiosks to their division. She also suggests that there must be somewhere inside the massive jail where visitors could sit while waiting to visit, sheltered from the elements, rather than standing outside for hours. Alerting families when a division or tier goes on lockdown  would help families to determine if a visit is even possible on a specific day, she says.

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The Cook County Jail complex at 2700 S. California Ave. has 10 divisions.

Have you ever been held at Cook County Jail, or visited an inmate there? Please share your experience below. Cook County Justice Watch would like to know how you think the process of visitation could be improved.

Interview footage shot and produced by Rachel Hoffman. rachelehoffman.com/video/

Interview conducted by Ruby Pinto. 

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Visitation at Cook County Jail – Part 2

Approximately 100,000 people are admitted into Cook County Jail every year, which maintains an average daily population of about 7,500. When a family member finds out that their loved one has been detained at the jail, their first response may be to attempt to visit as soon as possible. This process can be very challenging to navigate however, and often friends and family encounter setbacks that make gaining and maintaining access to visitation incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible.

To find out more, Cook County Justice Watch spoke to Patty Cloud about her experience with visitation at the jail. Cloud is a member of Progressive Community Church and has been visiting incarcerated members of the church’s congregation since 2011. In the first segment of this series, Patty talked about the process of being cleared for visitation, which involves locating the inmate and being placed on their visitor list, submitting a visitor application and clearing a background check.

 

Here, Patty talks about her experience on visiting day. Cook County Jail is located at 26th Street and California Avenue. While it is accessible by public transportation, the trip can be exhausting, especially for families with small children and elderly visitors. Once visitors arrive, they must wait outside, exposed to the elements, with nowhere to sit. Often, people will wait in line for hours only to find out that they have not been cleared for visitation, or that the division they were planning to visit has been placed on lockdown and will not be receiving visitors that day.

Patty also describes the experience of holding a conversation with an inmate through a metal grate like the ones shown below. These grates prohibit eye contact while speaking, making communication and connection difficult. Patty questions if this kind of restrictive environment is necessary to maintain safety and order in the jail.

grate
Visitation booths with metal grates to speak through.

In the final segment of this series, we’ll share Patty’s thoughts on how the visitation process might be improved in order to make visits more accessible and beneficial for inmates and their loved ones. If you’ve had experience with visitation at the Cook County Jail, please share your story with us in the comments section below. Subscribe to follow these segments.

Seven Escape From Illinois Jail in Two Days
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Interview footage shot and produced by Rachel Hoffman. rachelehoffman.com/video/

Interview conducted by Ruby Pinto. 

 

Public Defender Amy Campanelli On Reforming Cook County’s Bond Court

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli at the Collaborative on Reentry. In the speech, she addresses reforms currently underway in Cook County’s Bond Court and proposals for further improvements.

Speech by Cook County Public Defender regarding Collaborative on Reentry

I would like to thank the members of the Collaborative on Reentry, as well as Esther Franco Payne from the Illinois Justice Project for inviting me to speak today.

On the issue of race, which Professor Stone so elegantly highlighted, it is an issue in the criminal justice system. I want to tell you about two cases that just came through bond court. Two young men, both charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. The first was a white male and a student at DePaul. He was accused of having sex with someone who was mentally deficient and could not give consent. The second was a black male. He was charged with sex by use of force. Bond for the white male was set at $50,000. Bond for the black male was set at half-a-million. Whether you think the bond should be higher or lower, the disparity is outrageous.

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Nowhere do we see an overreliance on the jail for incarceration more than in bond court. We must reduce that overreliance. Clients who remain in custody pretrial are much more likely to go to prison than those on pretrial release. That said, things have been improving, but there is much more to do.

Our Bond Court initiative began in the Fall of 2012. At that time, the jail regularly had a population of over 10,000 detainees. Now the population is in the 8000 range. The success of the project is due to the support and resources given to us by President Preckwinkle and the Justice Advisory Council. Through efforts of the Council, we received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to hire caseworkers to help my bond court attorneys. Their work is essential, as I will explain in a moment.

The Council and Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke have also assisted in other ways. Before the initiative began, we had to conduct new client interviews between the bars of the bullpen behind the bond court room. When the Sheriff received custody of a person from the Chicago or suburban police departments for bond court, he was marked with a number on his hand. Before the reforms took place our interviewers would go up to the bars and yell out a number to summon our new clients for an interview. Prior to these interviews we would not have a name, arrest report, or complaint for our new clients.

Things are greatly improved because of the collaboration of all the stakeholders, the President, the MacArthur Foundation and the Supreme Court. On the lower level of Division 5 of the jail, we now have a large private room where interviews are conducted. There are ten private cubicles for the interviews. We now receive all the Chicago Police Arrest Reports for our new clients. We also receive the complaints and the criminal history background. We now have six Safer Foundation caseworkers, provided to us by MacArthur grant money and the Justice Advisory Council, who conduct intake interviews with our new clients to identify and verify background information to present to the court in order to help us secure a reasonable bond. The caseworkers also speak with family members and give them an information sheet explaining the bond court process. That sheet is on your table today.

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Also assisting us with the interviews are counselors from the Thresholds Foundation. Two counselors are in our interview area every day. If a new client reports a history of mental illness, the client is referred to the Thresholds counselor for an interview and evaluation. If the client is released from custody on an I-Bond, EM or by posting money, Thresholds will co-ordinate out-patient treatment. If the client does not get released, Thresholds stays in contact with the client to begin treatment if the client does get discharged from the jail back into the community when the case is resolved.

A wonderful success story of our program is the case of a 17-year-old named Marcello. In 2013, he was arrested for stealing three cell phones. He was initially held on a $300,000 bond. My office filed a second chance bond motion. The bond was lowered to $10,000; the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls posted the $1,000 needed for his release. Because he was released, he returned to the Mercy Home and received support. Their support led to his enrollment in college at DePaul University. Three of my attorneys gathered together all his mitigation evidence, brought representatives of Mercy Home to court, and showed the prosecution that this young boy epitomized a story of success. An agreement was reached for misdemeanor probation. This success story, however, depended on his receiving a reasonable bond so that he could reenter the community while he waited for his trial.

A new drug deferred prosecution program has begun in the Central Bond Court here in Cook County for minor drug possession cases. My clients who accept the program are immediately released on an I-bond and are linked with a case manager from TASC (the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). The TASC case manager will refer my clients to designated service providers based on an initial assessment of my client’s needs.

In addition, bond court is using a new risk assessment tool. The two major factors for a judge to consider are the seriousness of the offense and the likely flight risk of the person. This tool has been in place only for a few months, and its effectiveness in setting a proper bond, as well as how it will affect the number of people held in jail, is still uncertain, but I am hopeful this tool will lead to fair and reasonable bonds.

Despite these improvements, problems remain. Over 70% of our new clients in central bond court are charged with nonviolent offenses. Narcotics offenses are a large portion of new charges. There are also a significant number of property crimes, ranging from burglaries to felony retail theft. Many clients also indicate that they have suffered through the years with mental illness, drug addiction or both.

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In my judgment, none of these people should be held in custody on unrealistic bonds while they are waiting for their trial. My clients cannot even scrape together $100 for bond. Community based support must be available to my clients while they are on pretrial release.

This is not a new proposal. Judge Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, has championed the reform of taking money out of the bail process entirely. First, if a judge at a bond hearing determines that an arrestee is safe enough to release on ‘bond,’ that means the judge has determined he is not a threat to public safety. Incarceration because of the inability to pay a monetary bond is nothing more than turning the jail into a pauper’s prison. Second, by taking money out of the process, it eliminates the push for those in jail to plead guilty just so they can get out of the Cook County Jail, even if they are innocent of the charges.

I would like to reiterate the conclusions that were recently expressed in an article on this subject in the New York Times. The long-term damage that bail inflicts on vulnerable detainees extends well beyond incarceration. Disappearing into the machinery of the justice system separates family members, interrupts work and jeopardizes housing. People in the throes of poverty don’t have the luxury of missing their job for even one day. People in need of caretaking, such as the elderly and the young, are left without caretakers. People who live in shelters may lose their housing. People with immigration concerns are quicker to be put on the immigration radar. So when our clients have bail set that they cannot make, they suffer on the inside, they worry about what’s happening on the outside, and when they get out, the world has become a lot more difficult. Thank you.

A Letter to the Editor of The Chicago Sun Times : Sheriff Tom Dart’s Administrative Release Program

The following is a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun Times regarding an article entitled Dart Wants Candy Thieves, Other Shoplifters and Trespassers Out Of His Jail.

On March 10th, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart made a visit to Springfield to propose legislation requiring that judges dispose of shoplifting and trespassing cases within a month of an arrest or release the defendants on a non-cash bond or electronic monitoring until their trials. Since then he’s been in the media, including a nearly 20-minute spot on the Anderson Cooper 360, talking about issues with the Cook County justice system. It is refreshing to see the Sheriff moving to change the process in which low-level nonviolent cases are handled. The fact that so many individuals are held in jail simply because they cannot afford bail has been a point of tension for years in communities who are most affected by these practices. A city-wide grassroots movement called DecarcerateChi has been building around the demand that all individuals accused of nonviolent crimes be released without bail.

A protest organized by DecarcerateChi at the Cook County Administrative Building
A direct action organized by DecarcerateChi at the Cook County Administrative Building

It went unmentioned, however, that the Sheriff has the ability to release up to 1500 individuals from the jail under the Administrative Release Program approved in 2011, allowing for non-violent pretrial detainees with no history of violent offenses to be released on non-cash bonds or electronic monitoring. This order was intended to ease overcrowding of the jail, which is currently not overcrowded by definition. However a large influx of arrests or parole violations could flood the jail at any time. Currently Sheriff Dart has only released a total of 57 men and 28 women under this order. If he is concerned about people who do not belong in the jail taking up space there, why won’t he use this power to dramatically reduce the number of non-violent cases awaiting trial behind bars?

As for the proposed legislation, Sheriff Dart is on the right track, but while incremental policy changes may help to reduce jail population and save tax dollars in the short term, much more thorough revision needs to occur, including cooperation and a commitment to reduce jail population from all stakeholders including state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office determines charges brought and therefore feeds the jail population.

Ruby Pinto is a leader with SOUL and a contributor to Cook County Justice Watch

A Letter to the Editor of The Chicago Sun Times

A recent Sun Times editorial shed some much-needed light on the fact that in Cook County, individuals accused of non-violent crimes often spend extended amounts of time behind bars after their initial court appearance simply because they cannot afford bail. The piece highlights statistics that link pre-trial detention to harsher sentencing, as well as the high cost of incarcerating low-risk defendants rather than allowing them to await trial at home. An alternative in-or-out system used in other parts of the nation is also briefly introduced.

The editorial stopped short, however, of covering the process in which this system is already being reformed. Efforts that have been made by the supreme court, county employees, community organizations and other advocates to push for bond court reform were completely ignored. Because of the ongoing effort made by these individuals and groups, some of which are covered in this piece published by the Red Eye, approximately 50% of defendants are currently sent home on I-bonds or electronic monitoring, up from 21% in 2011. This increase is the result of better pretrial services that allow judges to make more informed decisions, as well as an increase in the use of electronic monitoring and the number of I-bonds granted. Other initiatives, such as eliminating the automatic transfer of minors to adult court and preventing the implementation of mandatory minimum laws are currently underway to further ease overincarceration.

Image by Cook County
Image by Cook County

The Sun Times article does focus on one decision maker: newly appointed Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Governor Rauner’s administration is said to be laying “the groundwork for reforms that will make our criminal justice system fairer and more cost-effective.” But what does that groundwork look like, and how will it work? Rauner has the ability to make some initial executive orders that will get the process started. Ali Abid, the Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, says parole violations are an obvious first step.

“Currently approximately 700 people being held in the Cook County Jail are there for technical violations of parole, just waiting to be transferred back to the Illinois Department Of Corrections. Due to the relatively unserious nature of most of their violations they would likely be re-released from prison soon after being reprocessed. But until that happens they are stuck in limbo, in the Cook County Jail, with county taxpayers paying the bill. It is within Governor Rauner’s power to release or remove these individuals and, moreover, work to revamp the state’s parole system.” – Ali Abid, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice

Once parole violations are addressed, the governor might further consider the wide scope of his executive abilities. “Governor Rauner should look at his powers broadly in examining what can be done to reduce the state prison and local jail populations,” says Abid.

This issue has been in the hearts and minds of families, young people and clergy for quite some time. At the grassroots level, hundreds of Cook County residents have been organizing around and educating the public on bail/bond reform in recent years. DecarcerateCHI is a task force working with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) that has targeted State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, calling on her to be a leader in reform of bond court and to take on a much stronger role in addressing and eliminating racial disparity that appears throughout the criminal justice system. Tristan Bock-Hughes, a second-year Public Policy student at University of Chicago, is a leader with DecarcerateCHI. He places a high emphasis on the importance of community input and availability of elected officials to their constituents.

Image by DecarcerateCHI
Image by DecarcerateCHI

“The DecarcerateCHI campaign has been working for over a year to achieve the exact kinds of pre-trial reforms to the Cook County system this Sun Times Article suggests. Yet Anita Alvarez has been less than open to even communicating with policy experts and community organizers,” says Bock-Hughes. “It is shameful that organizations like Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, the Indiana Illinois Regional Organizing Network, and Organizing Catholics for Justice had to send months worth of letters, emails, and calls before finally staging multiple protests just to meet with her once. Governor Rauner must learn from the mistakes of politicians like Anita Alvarez and actually meet with the experts that work in these systems day in and day out if any reform is going to be achieved.”

A truly successful reform of the deeply flawed criminal justice system in Cook County and statewide will be one that combines efforts being made on all fronts from executive to grass-roots, and takes into account the needs of communities, taxpayers and those who have been incarcerated and will be impacted most by reform or lack there of.

Ruby Pinto is a leader with SOUL and a contributor to Cook County Justice Watch