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 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.

 

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

Targeting Automatic Transfers: President Preckwinkle Aims at Addressing Racial Disparity in the Cook County Justice System

What does it mean to Ruby Pinto that prosecutors instead of judges decide which kids are tried as adults?  “It’s a system that targets the poor and especially people of color for harsher sentencing. We need to start looking at the person that enters the courtroom, not just the crime they’ve been accused of. Especially in the case of young people, a blanket policy that gives power to an interested party is not a smart approach.”

Ruby is a community leader from the South Side grassroots organization SOUL.  On December 12, she and others from across Cook County filled the board room to hear how the Cook County Board President was answering the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Challenge.

Image by Cook County
Image by Cook County

“At the heart of the President’s message is the need to keep young black and brown boys and men in school and on track to complete high school and postsecondary education and training.” Preckwinkle stated at the beginning of her My Brother’s Keeper Summit.  She continued, “We answered the President’s call to action. We are determined to end unfair laws that prevent young boys and men of color from reaching their educational and professional potential. We want to start by ending the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court.  This is a deeply unfair practice that disproportionately impacts youth of color.”

Click here to download the Automatic Transfer Cook County Fact Sheet.

In a somewhat surprise move, Preckwinkle responded to Obama’s call to “ensure that all youth, specifically boys and men of color, have opportunities for education, advancement and personal and professional success” by taking on a vestige from the ‘tough on crime’ 1980s that reeks of structural racism.  All told, President Preckwinkle, her Chief of Staff Kim Foxx, Robert Listenbee from the US Department of Justice, and Illinois State Representative Elaine Nekritz each spoke on the importance of ending automatic transfers.

-2This was exciting news for the group of Public Allies who attended the summit to learn how elected officials take on difficult community issues and address racial disparities within their jurisdiction.  The Allies are young leaders who are committed to careers in the nonprofit and government sectors and are currently serving 10 months as volunteers.   Bethany Garling, a member of the group, was inspired by the summit: “The work that Preckwinkle is doing to stop automatic transfers is a direct reflection of the type of change that needs to take place- an individual using their influence to take control of one piece of this system and reconstruct it in a very intentional way.”

The reality of racial disparity within the criminal justice system has weighed heavy in the minds, and daily lives of many residents.  Pinto explains, “As the nation grapples with the racial justice issues surrounding the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and other young black men, we see a national movement growing around the demand to end police brutality toward people of color. The “Black Lives Matter” discussion is rapidly expanding into other aspects of the criminal justice system.”

-1The Cook County My Brother’s Keeper Summit presented an opportunity to see how Government leaders address structural inequity.  Preckwinkle has taken a hard look at the Justice System in Cook County.  She identified the practice of automatic transfers of juvenile defendants to the adult correctional system to be one of the most racially disparate practices in the administration of justice in Cook County. Quoting a study from the Juvenile Justice Initiative, she reported that over the course of three years, 257 young people were automatically transferred and only one was white. Further, that over the course of the study, the annual percentage of African Americans who were automatically transferred rose 15 points to 83%.

Up until 1982, judges made a decision if a juvenile defendant would be charged as an adult or not.  At that point law began to change so that young people charged with certain serious offenses were automatically tried as adults.  How the court treats a young defendant is now determined by the charges the prosecutor decides to bring against them, not the careful discretion of an impartial judge.  Preckwinkle stated, “We are sending young people to the adult system for lesser crimes than when judges made this crucial decision and almost every single one of them is black or brown.  This is deeply disturbing. The lack of due process robs young people of the fair hearing to determine whether or not they are suitable for the juvenile system’s rehabilitative opportunities.”  She also explained that this practice is a major driver of the increasing costs and population of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, citing an 81% increase in the JTDC automatic transfer population from last year.

1of14Robert Listenbee, the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention with the United States Department of Justice explained the White House is committed to evidence based policy and has learned that punitive juvenile justice systems are not very effective and that a public health mindset is key to building successful interventions for young people involved in the justice system.  Further that, “Automatic transfer policies do not take this evidenced based information into account and they do not improve either public safety or the lives of the children that they affect.”

Image by Cook County
Image by Cook County

After the Summit, Kim Foxx, Robert Listenbee and his Senior Policy Advisor Georgina Mendoza all took time to debrief the event and their efforts with the Public Allies.  In an encouraging closing of the summit, they challenged the Allies to create the change that they want to see in the world.  Afterwards, Garling had this to say, “Many of us come from families and communities that had been excluded in a variety of contexts; a lot of Allies have been primarily treated as though they are someone to be ignored or feared. Considering this, it was extremely meaningful to have someone in a position of power speak to us as though we are powerful, valuable people capable of making meaningful change.”

Click here to view video of the summit.