Cook County Jail at near-full capacity

August 21, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Right now, there are more than 10,000 people living in a jail, that's at 98 percent capacity.

While Chicago Police say overall crime is down, the jail population is rising, up nearly 4 percent in the past 11 days.

There is a cocktail of causes, from more arrests to slower court proceedings.

It's now gotten so bad that inmates are being shipped to other facilities outside of Cook County.

"Nobody is here for missing church so you really don't want to get too close to somebody," said Sgt. Charles Brazelton.

Easier said than done.

A pair of minimum security dorms is home to 680 inmates, just four away from maximum capacity.

"There are occasions when things get a little out of hand because of the amount of detainees I have," said Sgt. Charles Brazelton.

Staff is stretched and some inmates are in limbo.

Natale Saraceno is here on a retail theft charge, serving what's known as "dead time" while he awaits an open bed at drug treatment facility.

"I'm waiting patiently," Saraceno said. "It's in the court order so it's got to happen. I don't know when."

"The logistics part is a nightmare," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. "Just trying to move people and feed them is a nightmare."

Dart says he's been forced to ship inmates to other facilities, where it's actually cheaper to house them.

He pays $55 per inmate per day compared with the $143 a day cost at the Cook County lock-up.

"At the same time virtually every other county around us has empty beds all over the place, to the point they're renting them out to me because their populations are going down," Dart said.

The sheriff also attributes the increase in inmates to the lack of mental health treatment available on the outside.

"As more hospitals and clinics shut down where are these people going? They're not getting cured, so they're coming here," said Dart.

Still, conditions are better than a decade or two ago when overcrowding forced inmates to sleep on the floor.

Jaythan Lake guesses he's been a "guest" of the county 15 times over the years.

"There's not a big violence factor in the jail like their used to be. As far as the living situation, it might be a little better," he said.

This week, sheriff's deputies re-arrested an inmate mistakenly released a man accused of beating his girlfriend.

While he was out, he allegedly attacked his girlfriend again.

The sheriff says an employee made a mistake, one of the dangers, he says, of over overcrowding.

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