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.

cook-county-jail-facilities
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. 

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. 

 

Visitation at Cook County Jail – Part 1

During an inmate’s time at Cook County Jail, a visit from a friend or loved one can mean a world of difference. A study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that prisoners who received at least one personal visit at any time during their incarceration were 13 percent less likely to commit another felony and 25 percent less likely to end up back in prison on a technical parole violation. Data showed that the more visits prisoners received, the lower their chance of recidivating after release. Visits can help to improve the morale and well-being of both inmates and their loved ones and maintain personal connections that prove to be crucial during re-entry.

However, gaining and maintaining access to visitation rights can be difficult, especially for those without access to resources and flexible schedules. Potential visitors must fill out an application and submit to a background check. They must also be in contact with the inmate they wish to visit, in order to be placed on the inmate’s visitation list. An online Inmate Locator may be used to find out where an inmate has been placed.

To find out more about the experience of visiting an inmate at Cook County Jail, we 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. We will publish a total of three segments on visitation, each covering a different aspect of Patty’s experience. In this first segment, Patty talks about gaining access to visitation, the challenges she and others have encountered throughout the process, and the impact that this process has on families.

Next week, Cook County Justice Watch will share Patty’s experience on visiting day, including the wait to see an inmate and the process of communicating during the visit. Subscribe to follow these segments.

front-gate-2
A gate visitors enter during visitation at Cook County Jail

 

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

Interview conducted by Ruby Pinto. 

The Chicago Community Bond Fund Is Taking On Cash Bond One Person at a Time

The Chicago Community Bond Fund Is Taking On Cash Bond One Person at a Time

Part 3 in our series on bond court in Cook County.

Read Part 1: ‘Disrespectful…inattentive and vindictive’ Cook County’s Bond Court.

Read Part 2: Public Defender Amy Campanelli On Reforming Cook County’s Bond Court.

As Public Defender Amy Campanelli continues to push for the necessary reforms to bond court as described in Part 2 of our series, individuals continue to be caught up in unnecessary pre-trial detention simply because they lack the resources to get out. Now, one group of Chicagoans is taking it upon themselves to pay bond for some of the thousands of people in Cook County Jail (CCJ) who have been granted bond but are unable to afford it. The Chicago Community Bond Fund is a new non-profit organization dedicated to ending the use of monetary bond in Illinois, and working to get people out of Cook County Jail in the meantime.

The basic problems with money bond

As has been well-known for a while, and as CCBF itself pointed out in a recent AREA Chicago article, cash bond is not good public safety policy. Despite claims that monetary bond ensures defendants return to court and discourages commission of new crimes, supporting evidence for those claims is weak to non-existent. For example, Washington, D.C. eliminated use of monetary bond decades ago, and instead established a Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) that uses risk assessment to make release decisions. Once released, defendants are supported by services that further increase their chances of succeeding while awaiting trial. A 2013 BJA funded study of unsecured bonds by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that unsecured bonds are as effective as secured bonds at both ensuring court appearance and achieving public safety goals such as avoiding re-arrest.

Though the benefits of using monetary bond are hard to confirm, the harms of pretrial detention are obvious and well-documented. People who are incarcerated simply because they cannot pay an often arbitrary amount of money may lose their jobs, housing, and even custody of their children. Family and community connections are damaged, the defendant is less able to participate in their own defense, and the chances of being convicted increase. Detained defendants who are convicted also receive significantly longer sentences than defendants who were not detained pretrial. Each one of these outcomes further decreases the defendant’s chances of future success and increases recidivism. In a review of over 150,000 criminal cases in Kentucky, the Arnold Foundation found that defendants who are detained “are over four times more likely to be sentenced to jail and over three times more likely to be sentenced to prison than defendants who are released at some point pending trial.” Perhaps the most compelling result of studying the impact of pretrial detention is the fact that when low- and moderate-risk defendants are detained even a few days, the odds of recidivation significantly increase. (Source.)

Non-financial conditional release, based on the history, characteristics, and reliability of the defendant, is more effective than financial release conditions. Reliance on money bail discriminates against indigent defendants and cannot effectively address the need for release conditions that protect the public. Pro-social interventions that address substance disorders, employment, housing, medical, educational, and mental health issues afford defendants the opportunity for personal improvement and decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior.”Guiding Principles of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia

Who is in Cook County Jail?

Cook County Jail is no outlier by national standards. Frequently referred to as the largest single-site jail in the country, CCJ has around 70,000 admission every year. Like most jails, the vast majority of CCJ’s population is pre-trial. In early October 2015, fully 95% of CCJ inmates were awaiting trial. The vast majority of those behind bars were technically eligible for bond as set by a judge but were simply unable to afford it. In fact, over 150 of the nearly 9,000 people incarcerated in CCJ at that time needed to post only $500 or less in bond in order to be released. Also like most jails, CCJ is disproportionately Black. Despite the fact that only 24% of Cook County residents are African American, CCJ’s population was 73% Black in October 2015.

Introducing the Bond Fund

Chicago Community Bond Fund’s mission is, quite simply, to help people get out of CCJ. Growing out of a grassroots effort to bond out five activists arrested at an August 2014 community vigil for Desean Pittman, CCBF has now set its sights on less obviously political pretrial detainees. The group of activists, attorneys, and community members has established a revolving bond fund that will pay bond for people who simply cannot pay it themselves. In their words, “paying bond …  restores the presumption of innocence before trial and enables recipients to remain free while fighting their cases.” CCBF also plans to conduct teach-ins and other public education “about the role of bond in the criminal legal system and [advocate] for the abolition of money bond.”

Watch the short video below to hear CCBF co-founder Jeanette Wince speaking at the launch party on November 21, 2015. Jeanette begins by discussing how she and other family members raised bond money for those arrested in August 2014 by throwing house parties and holding raffles.

 

So far, CCBF has been focused on creating organizational structure and establishing guidelines for operation. Nevertheless, the group has found time to continue supporting broader causes of criminal justice reform and racial justice. After the release of the video showing a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times on November 24th, CCBF quickly established a bond fund for protesters who took to the street demanding justice and accountability. Now, CCBF has joined a coalition of groups to raise money to post bond for Naomi Freeman, a young Black mother in Cook County Jail after killing her abusive partner.

CCBF’s Adventures Posting Bond

On December 3rd, CCBF posted bond for their first client, and their experience reveals a lot about the hurdles ordinary Chicagoans face when trying to post bond for a loved one. Two CCBF members, Max and Ash, headed to Cook County Jail around 2pm on an ordinary Thursday. When Ash attempted to post bond, he was told that CCBF’s client, R., was serving a sentence and thus could not be bonded out. When Ash tried to ask questions, knowing that R. had not yet been sentenced, he was given no further information. The clerk merely repeated the same thing multiple times, and conveyed to Ash that R. would be released when her sentence was over in March 2016.

After calling R’s attorney and confirming that she had not yet been sentenced and was, in fact, eligible for bond, Max and Ash tried to figure out why the system was reporting an incorrect status. By chance, Max saw someone from the public defender’s office who he knew from when he interned there as a law student. That person was able to contact her supervisor in the public defender’s office, who in turn contacted a supervisor over in the bond posting office. Eventually, a little over an hour later, the county employees were changing shifts, so Ash sat in the office for 30 minutes while the shift change took place. After two more system errors and separate 15-20 minute delays, Ash was finally able to post bond around 5pm, and R. finally walked out of CCJ nearly 4 hours later (approximately 7 hours after Ash first tried to post bond). He noted that as a non-attorney with no special access to supervisors or court records, he would never have been able to correct the system error that reported R’s status as sentenced instead of pre-trial. During his time in the waiting room, Ash saw several people turned away from posting bond entirely and delayed due to system errors. As is unfortunately often the case in Cook County, it was only as a result of special access and connectionsand those mostly the result of Max’s status as an attorneythat Max and Ash were eventually able to post R.’s bond.

You can read more about CCBF’s client R and their other recent news in their newsletter.

 

Cook County Justice Watch Speaks with Floyd Stafford

Recently, Cook County Justice Watch had the chance to speak with Floyd Stafford, future Legislative Coordinator for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. Floyd is a co-founder of the Alumni Association and a criminal justice advocate. He spent several months in the Cook County Jail’s Pre-Release program, and brings a rare and much-needed perspective to this work. We spoke to Floyd about growing up on Chicago’s West Side, his experience in Cook County Jail and the work he hopes to do in his upcoming position. Floyd also provides insight on the challenges that formerly incarcerated people face upon release, and the work he has done and and continues to do challenging these barriers.

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