On February 17, 2007, the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), opened an investigation of the Cook County Jail, under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). In July 2007, the DOJ conducted on-site inspections of the jail, interviewing staff and inmates, and on August 3, 2007, the DOJ notified jail officials of potentially life-threatening deficiencies at the jail, including grossly unsanitary conditions and inadequate emergency key precautions, which the jail immediately began to improve. As DOJ continued to investigate, its lawyers found a series of serious problems with the jail. For example, in one case, an inmate left untreated for a gunshot wound developed sepsis and died. Another inmate's medical problems went untreated, causing him to eventually need an amputation. Just one dentist serves 9,800 inmates, and he only deals in extractions. Indeed, the investigators found that twenty-five percent of the dental procedures result in infection.
On July 11, 2008, the DOJ issued a 98-page findings letter detailing its conclusion that the jail was operating to deprive prisoners of their constitutional rights in many respects. The DOJ and the county then negotiated a settlement to the matter, and on May 13, 2010, DOJ filed its formal complaint and both parties filed a proposed settlement. On May 26, 2010, Judge Virginia M. Kendall issued an agreed order that addressed those problems and appointed four experts in the areas of Corrections, Medical, Mental Health, and Sanitation to monitor Defendants' compliance with the Order, who were to submit reports to the court on a semiannual basis. The proposed settlement contained comprehensive provisions on use of force, protection from harm, medical care, mental health care, sanitation, training, quality assurance/performance improvement, fire and life safety, and improved policies, procedures, and practices. The order would terminate when Defendants have achieved substantial compliance with each of the provisions of the Agreed Order and have maintained Substantial Compliance with the Agreed Order for a period of 18 months.
On May 27, 2010, the Defendants filed a motion for a Prisoner Release Order. In a previous case, Duran v. Sheriff Thomas Dart (case no. 74 C 2949), Judge Shadur had ordered a Prisoner Release Order on March 22, 1983. (Duran is JC-IL-0002
in this Clearinghouse.) That order remained in effect over all the subsequent years. In addition to that order, Judge George M. Marovich, who succeeded Judge Shadur as the U.S. District Court Judge to whom this matter was assigned, entered a transfer order on November 14, 2003, permitting the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC) to transfer to the Illinois Department of Corrections all persons remanded to the CCDOC who had unexpired terms of imprisonment as a result of being released on a mandatory supervised release order ("Parole").
Despite having years to comply with the previous court orders, the CCDOC still had daily concerns whether a spike in arrests or some other factor not under the CCDOC's control would increase the number of inmates and there being no living units for them to occupy. At the time, the daily population at CCDOC exceeded 90% of capacity. Therefore, the Defendants sought to continue the March 22, 1983, Prisoner Release Order entered by Judge Shadur and the November 14, 2003, Order entered by Judge Marovich pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3626(a)(3)(C). Defendants asked that the Prisoner Release Order permit the Sheriff to release individuals in such numbers necessary to reduce and relieved overcrowding, thus allowing solutions to the identified constitutional deficiencies.
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3626, even if the parties agree, such an order can be entered only by a three-judge district court after certain findings are entered by that court. The requisite findings include: an ongoing violation of constitutional rights, with crowding as the primary source of the constitutional deficiencies, and weighing of public safety concerns.
Pursuant to this statute, a three-judge court was convened. On January 11, 2011, Judge Richard A. Posner, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, and Judge Kendall denied the motion for entry of the proposed released order without prejudice, inviting the parties to submit a revised motion consistent with the discussion and directives in their opinion, plus evidence to support an estimate of the number of prisoners expected to be released if a revised order was approved. U.S. v. Cook County, Illinois, 761 F.Supp.2d 794 (N.D. Ill. 2011). The Defendant responded and the Plaintiffs agreed with the revised proposed order. On March 14, 2011, the three Judges stated that the revised proposed order complied with the directives in their opinion and was satisfactory with the exception of the provision stating that the Sherriff "may release detainees in order to reduce the population of CCJ to 85% of its available bed capacity," upon specified conditions. On March 29, 2011, the three Judges approved the modified released order that allowed the release on electronic monitoring of up to 1,500 pretrial detainees to prevent overcrowding and thus reduce the number of potential constitutional violations stemming from overcrowding at CCJ.
On June 13, 2011, Judge Kendall ordered that, by agreement of the parties, the Sheriff of Cook County was authorized to retain Patricia Hardyman, Ph.D. of the Criminal Justice Institute, Inc. in Middletown, Connecticut to consult with and aid the Sheriff in creating a classification system compliant with the Agreed Order entered on May 26, 2010.
Currently, the Court continues to monitor the enforcement of the agreed order through the reports submitted by the monitors and the parties and through status hearings. The latest action was a letter submitted on December 19, 2013, by an inmate informing the Court that his new counselor was denying him his grievances making him unable to "exhaust an administrative remedies." The case is ongoing. Jessica Kincaid - 02/03/2014