Cook County Jail to downsize

March 4, 2010 2:55:57 PM PST
Sheriff Tom Dart announced Thursday that he's closing two buildings in the jail complex because the inmate population is declining. Sheriff Dart said the cost-savings will amount to millions of dollars. It could be the first time in decades that jail buildings have been closed because of a decrease in the number of inmates. The first jail dorm closed last month in Division 2 -- which houses minimum and medium security male inmates.

The downsizing means the Cook County Jail will no longer be the largest single-site facility in the country. Sheriff Dart said the consolidation effort of both detainees and jail personnel could potentially save taxpayers as much as $15 million.

"We have no delusions that this will be the case forever but we feel comfortable with what they're building into this," said Sheriff Dart.

A 300-bed Division 3 facility will closed next month but will be "mothballed" and slated for overflow use in case of any population spikes at the jail. For now, it will be at least partly converted into a cafeteria.

"We will only pay for the meals we serve. That is additional savings coming down the road," said Sheriff Dart.

According to the cook county sheriff, the jail population is currently around 8,600. Last month it dipped to near 8,400. About 10 years ago -- the facility was home to more than 11,000 inmates -- many of whom were forced to sleep on the floor.

The 96-acre jail complex can house 10,000 inmates.

In 2004, almost 106,000 people were processed at the jail. Last year, 86,000 people were processed. Officials attribute the decline in the number of inmates to a drop in the overall crime rate. The closures will allow the shifting of 175 corrections employees to other posts - a move that will save $10.5 million in annual salaries and potentially $2 million more a year in overtime costs. Jail officials hope the reallocation will alleviate the need to fill roughly 600 federal mandated spots the county has agreed to.

"The hope is that this judge will look a the 175 you only have to hire 325," said Steve Patterson, Cook County Sheriff spokesperson.

So far, there've been 100 new hires and 96 positions have been eliminated. As part of a decades long court battle over conditions at the jail, a federal judge ordered cook county to hire 210 new sheriff's officers this year and fill 395 vacant positions. The plan involves a lot of shifting of the inmate population.

Cook County Jail officials will meet with the judge again in april.