Prisoners, civil rights attorneys call Cook County Jail a 'public health disaster' in new court filings

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hundreds of detainees, correctional officers and staff at the Cook County Jail have been infected by the coronavirus. New filings in federal court Wednesday request the release of additional prisoners.

RELATED: Correctional officer claims unsanitary, unsafe conditions amid coronavirus outbreak at Cook County Jail

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The ABC7 I-Team has new details about what may be happening inside the Cook County Jail.

"A public health disaster" is how prisoners, their attorneys and civil rights lawyers are describing the situation at the Cook County Jail. Now they are pleading with a federal judge to give them some relief.
Kyla Nunnally's husband, Devon White, is being held at the Cook County Jail. He is among 4,500 detainees, most of whom are being held without bond until their criminal trials start. Some simply do not have enough money to post bond.

White, 28, has been locked up since February on a gun possession charge. His wife tells the I-Team he should be released because the jail is too unhealthy.

"He doesn't know who's sick or not yet so he has to make his own face mask out of a shirt tied around his face, but they haven't offered to give them any supplies or anything. He said they were not offering to give them any cleaning supplies and sanitizer," said Kyla Nunnally.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases rise in Illinois jails, prisons; concerns rise with them
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Illinois coronavirus cases continue to rise in the nearly 50 state prisons and 100 county jails, turning them into islands of infections.

Those complaints are the basis for this federal lawsuit by some detainees and civil rights groups who say infections have now occurred in 62 sections of the jail, all on lockdown. They claim Sheriff Tom Dart, who runs the jail, "does not even acknowledge the magnitude of the public health disaster unfolding on his watch..."

They are asking U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly for an emergency order that would streamline prisoner releases and improve treatment for those still behind bars.
In this new motion Sheriff Dart opposes the move, saying he is following federal CDC guidelines, is taking proper sanitary precautions and imposing social distancing and isolation.

The lawsuit suggests a similar solution put in place Tuesday at the Miami-Dade jail system, described by inmates as "a petri dish for the coronavirus." In this decision, a federal judge in Florida ordered specific sanitation steps by jail officials, all the way down to a court order requiring inmates be given soap, preferably liquid, paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

Cook County judges have released 1,163 detainees since March 9, 2020, which is the day Illinois Governor JB Pritzker declared a state of emergency as a result of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the sheriff told the I-Team this week that "Living units are supplied daily with cleaning supplies." The sheriff was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday.

As of early Wednesday evening, there had been no decision from federal court on an emergency order for action at the Cook County Jail.

However, the past month, judges in Cook County have released nearly 1,200 detainees on bond due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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