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. 

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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.

Illinois Department of Corrections Sued for Overuse of Solitary Confinement

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Illinois Department of Corrections on behalf of prisoners who claim to have suffered from the overuse and misuse of solitary confinement. The suit was filed by Uptown People’s Law Center, and claims that Illinois has violated the 8th and 14th Amendment rights of thousands of people currently serving time in Illinois prisons. More details can be found here.

Source: Chicago Reader
Source: Chicago Reporter

This lawsuit follows the delivery of a petition to the American Institute of Architects by Architects/ Designers/ Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) and Uptown People’s Law Center. The petition called for change in AIA’s Code of Ethics to respect human rights by banning the design of execution chambers and spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement. The AIA rejected this petition in late 2014.

In conjunction with the lawsuit, an exhibit of art made by people during their time in solitary confinement was displayed at Art In These Times. More details on the exhibit can be found here.

Image via http://www.kob.com/article/stories/s3722445.shtml
Image via http://www.kob.com/article/stories/s3722445.shtml

The United Nations has condemned the use of solitary confinement, defining it as torture and calling on all countries to ban it.

Racial Disparity Concerns for State’s Attorney Alvarez’ New Policy and Other Avenues of Reform

On Monday, April 20, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced three changes in the way her office responds to drug crime. These changes, though neutral on their face, pose a great risk of increasing racial disparity in an already deeply unfair system. Below, we outline her new policy, our questions and concerns, and current pushes for decriminalization happening at the state level in Illinois.

State Attorney Alvarez’ new policy on drug crime:

  • Her office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor possession of marijuana under 30 grams for those who have had 2 or fewer citations or arrests on the matter beforehand;
  • All offenders charged with Class 4 felony possession of a controlled substance or possession of cannabis, except for those with significant violence in their criminal backgrounds, will be routed to an alternative prosecution program including the newly created Drug Deferred Prosecution Program (DDPP). These would include individuals possessing substances other than cannabis, such as heroin, cocaine, etc.
  • And the State’s Attorney’s Office will formalize an ongoing policy of not proceeding with charges against juvenile offenders for the possession of under 30 grams of cannabis and those who have fewer than three arrests or police contacts for similar charges. Instead, the State’s Attorney’s Office promises to work with the Chicago Police Department and community-based organizations to create and implement a juvenile-specific version of Seattle’s successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program.

These new policies come at a time of growing national awareness that responding to drug possession as a criminal rather than a public health problem is failed policy. Current practices have led to overcrowded prisons and jails, wasted resources that should be used toward higher enforcement priorities, lives impaired by a criminal record, and deepened racial divisions.

However, up until now, attempts at correcting this failed policy have only worsened racial disparities. . In 2012, the Chicago City Council decriminalized low levels of marijuana possession by issuing fines rather than criminal penalties.   But under existing state law, police can still issue arrests rather than tickets for such offenses, and, as noted in a report of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, do so in the vast majority of cases. Furthermore, when the decision is made to arrest or issue a fine, it is made predominantly along racial lines. In short, Black Chicagoans have not seen the reduction in arrests that White Chicagoans have.

Concerns About Racial Disparity Under Alvarez’s New Policy

In Chicago, blacks make up only 33% of the population, and yet, 73 % of all arrests are of black people. More arrests lead to more prosecutions despite the fact that blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rate. Disproportionate contact with police and prosecutors based on race presents such a stark contrast, that you would think anyone suggesting policy changes would proceed with caution. (Tables on Arrests and Population by Race are included at the bottom of this post, with sources).

Now, the Cook County States’ Attorney has actually suggested decreasing certain penalties for the possession of marijuana in a manner that may further increase disproportionality. She says that when we look for people whose cases should be dismissed or ought to be offered treatment (the new marijuana and juvenile program proposals, respectively), we should look at how often they have been arrested. Thus automatically treatment and dismissal will be offered less often to Blacks and Latinos who on the whole get arrested more often despite similar rates of drug use. Though the number of arrests of Blacks and Latinos will go down the racial disparity between people of color and whites stands to widen. As whites are disproportionately offered treatment and dismissal, the prosecution of Blacks disproportionately increases. Thus a set of terrible outcomes stands to get worse.

We would ask the State’s Attorneys what the expected populations, by race, are expected to be affected by these new policies? And what systems are being put into place to ensure individuals being offered treatment are actually being clinically assessed for their need and being offered the right level of services?

State Level Decriminalization Is Moving Forward

State law may soon change. House Bill 218, introduced by State Representative Cassidy, (D- Chicago) has just passed the Illinois House and has passed the Criminal Law Committee of the Senate. It calls for replacing criminal penalties with civil fines for low level marijuana possession. The proposed legislation has a broad base of support, including the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Office of Cook County State Sheriff Tom Dart.

Change begets tough questions and challenges. How will the Chicago Police Department respond to state, not just city, decriminalization of marijuana? Treatment and education services are already in short supply. Where will funding for the services to support alternatives to incarceration come from?  Can ways be found for units of government to collaborate in identifying and allocating the services that do exist? How will they insure that treatment goes to those who need it most?

It is promising that the Cook County State’s Attorney is citing the LEAD models of Seattle and Santa Fe. The first full-scale evaluation of LEAD, released last week by the University of Washington, found that that services rather than prison have helped to break the cycle of addiction, joblessness, and homelessness for program participants and reduced recidivism by nearly 60%. LEAD has established a national model for collaboration among law enforcement, human service agencies, and community organizations. The task now is effective implementation of such policies here.

Tables on Disproportionate Impact

2013 Census Bureau Population Estimate – City of Chicago

Total          2,719,000
Black              894,000 33%
Non-Black          1,824,000 67%

Source: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/17/1714000.html

Street Stops by Race – City of Chicago (four month sample)

Stops % Stops Per 1000
Total 251,000   94
Black 181,000 72% 205
Non-Black 70,000 28% 39

Analysis of four month period May through August 2014

Source: ACLU-IL http://www.aclu-il.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ACLU_StopandFrisk_6.pdf

2014 Arrests by Race – Chicago Police Department

  Arrests % Arrests per 1000
Total          129,000 48
Black            94,000 73% 106
Non-Black            35,000 27% 19

Source: Chicago Police Department

For comparison, the estimated arrest rate for the United States in 2012 was 39 arrests per 1,000 residents.

Source: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/persons-arrested/persons-arrested

2014 Cook County Jail Population

  Admissions % Admissions per 1000
Total 65,129 12
Black            43,000 65% 33
Non-Black           23,000 35% 6

Source: Cook County Sheriff

African Americans make up 25% of Cook County’s 5.2 million residents

Individuals from the City of Chicago comprised 63% of jail admissions

 

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