CHICAGO (WLS) --A lockdown was lifted Tuesday evening at Cook County Jail, where there are 9,000 inmates and staffing of correctional officers is a matter of personal safety.
When 18 percent of them called in and said they wouldn't be at work, it was sizable enough to create a safety problem. Jail officials said this is something that happens all too frequently - before holidays, after a snowfall, or with a big sporting event.
Things are returning to normal right now here at the Cook County Jail with regular staffing now in place for the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift after 142 correctional officers didn't show for the morning shift. That is almost twice as many as normal.
As snow piled up overnight in metro Chicago, so did the number of correctional officers calling in sick to the Cook County Jail. Even though it wasn't exactly "Snowmageddon," jail officials knew that once calls started trickling in to a special medical hotline, there would be a staffing problem and probable lockdown.
It is common when there is snowfall, a holiday, or a big sporting event such as the Super Bowl. Lockdowns come about once a month because too there are many sick calls.
Last year, the Super Bowl and snowstorm happened at about the same time and 36 percent of all Cook County Jail corrections officers didn't report to work on the day after the big game.
This time the numbers were not as bad, but more than enough to create staffing security problems and the lockdown was put in place.
Inmates were ordered to remain in their cells and recreation and special classes were canceled for the day.
Jail officials told the I-Team that part of the problem is corrections officers calling in on short notice to claim a federal Family Medical Leave Act day off - which they are entitled to do - but when too many do it at one time, there can be tremendous logistical problems for jail managers.
The president of the Teamsters local that represents 3,400 correctional officers was sharply critical of county jail officials, saying that officers' sick time can be used at their discretion and that they shouldn't be ridiculed for it.
The union official says some officers are afraid to handle jailhouse incidents claiming they aren't allowed to defend themselves, and she asks, if they call in sick, who could blame them?
Click here to read a statement from the union representing Cook County jail correctional officers.