Cook Co. jail overcrowded, close to exceeding capacity

March 20, 2013 (CHICAGO)

According to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinckle, there is no money in the budget to house more prisoners.

With its population having surged to over 10,000 inmates this week, the jail is already at 98-percent capacity.

To head off an overcrowding crisis by mid-summer, Preckwinkle wants 1500 detainees to await trial at home wearing ankle bracelets.

She spoke after a meeting with the cash-strapped county board. The board is on-notice that at the current rate of admissions, the jail population could within days exceed its 10,150-inmate capacity.

"It's a waste of public resources to put more money into jail beds. We have to figure out how to deal with non-violent offenders in a smarter way," Preckwinkle said.

"The population I had today is what I'd normally have at the worst time of the year," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. "You can't sustain that. My overtime budget is exploding right now, absolutely exploding. I'm already close to going through what I was supposed to do for the whole year."

It costs the county $143 a day per jail inmate compared to around $30 a day to electronically monitor a suspect at home. In her plan to reduce costs, Preckwinkle notes that 70-percent of current jail inmates are awaiting trial for non-violent offenses.

"If there are 10,000 people in the jail, I am confident that we can find 1500 people who could be safely put on electronic monitoring," she said.

Dart agrees with Preckwinkle.

"What better way to ensure someone is going to show up for court than to put a bracelet on his ankle. We know where he's at," Dart said.

Dart and Preckwinkle want Chief Judge Timothy Evans to suggest courtroom judges reduce bond amounts and recommend ankle bracelets for more suspects and for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's staff to cooperate where possible.

Meanwhile, Preckwinkle did not rule out public money for private agencies that could provide a place to live for those on electronic monitoring.

"More beds in those kinds of places. That is, not for profit organizations that provide substance abuse treatment and behavioral health support and other things for people who are awaiting trial," Preckwinkle said.

The sheriff, chief judge, state's attorney, clerk of the court and public defender will meet later this week to put together a strategy that will not include more money for jail beds, according to Preckwinkle.

Given the fact that jail is only days away from capacity, inmate releases onto electronic monitoring would have to begin as soon as possible.

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