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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The United Nations has condemned the use of solitary confinement, defining it as torture and calling on all countries to ban it.
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.
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 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 courtand preventing the implementation of mandatory minimum laws are currently underway to further ease overincarceration.
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.
“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