Coronavirus update: Judges to decide if 'vulnerable' inmates can be released from Cook County Jail

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Judges will decide on a case-by-case basis whether inmates vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus can be released from Cook County Jail, a judge decided at a hearing Monday.

The Cook County Public Defenders' Office along with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office requested the release of inmates with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, people with non-violent offenses, and anyone who is locked up because they can't pay for bail.

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They told the judge they have a list of 400 inmates who are non-violent and could be released immediately. But the judge ruled that he can't just sign off on all of these cases at one time without reviewing them first.

This week each day, judges will be reviewing hundreds of cases through video monitoring systems and will decide on a case-by-case basis which inmates can be released.

The hearing came after a Cook County correctional officer assigned to the residential treatment unit at Cermak Hospital, which is attached to the jail, tested positive for COVID-19. The officer is now in isolation.

After consultation with the Chicago Department of Public Health, a small number of staff have been advised to stay home, although none were symptomatic.

The Chicago Department of Public Health advised that these employees could have come to work if they were asymptomatic, but out of an abundance of caution, the Sheriff's Office told the employees to self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

Last week, Sheriff Tom Dart announced all social visits for detainees at Cook County Jail were suspended until further notice as part of an ongoing effort to address COVID-19.

But the public defenders office said the virus could spread quickly inside of the jail, which currently has more than 5,000 inmates, because the inmates currently have no room to social distance themselves.

The petition identifies "vulnerable populations" as:

1. All persons who are at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, either because of age and/or because of underlying health conditions.

2. All pregnant women.
3. All persons who are being confined on misdemeanor charges, felony charges as to which they are probationable or non-violent felony charges, including in particular all non-violent class 3 and class 4 felony charges.

4. All persons who are being confined following a judicial determination that they are bailable, but who remain in Jail because they cannot pay the money bond set in their cases.

5. All persons who are being confined following arrest on a warrant or upon an allegation of parole or probation violation and who are not charged with or suspected of a crime of violence.

The petition is scheduled to be filed Monday at 9:00 a.m. at the Cook County courthouse.
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