Cook County Jail Hosts International Chess for Freedom Conference to Promote Global Growth of Chess in Prisons and Jails

May 18, 2023Press Release

COOK COUNTY, IL – Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and members of the Cook County Jail hosted dignitaries and chess experts from 23 countries in its very first in-person Chess for Freedom event.

The special event brought together officials from The International Chess Federation (FIDE), including FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, representatives from the Mongolian, Bulgarian, Czech Republic, and Latvia consulates, as well as chess professionals from several countries, all in an effort to spread global awareness of the benefits of having chess programming in correctional facilities.

“I am extremely proud of the program we have created here in the Jail, and I’m grateful to the international chess community for their effort to expand these programs,” Sheriff Dart said. “Our shared goal is to further global collaboration and share the best practices for improving chess programs and tournaments in jails and prisons worldwide.”

Since it was launched in 2012, more than 1,400 men and women in custody have participated in the Jail’s chess program, and the Jail has served as host to multiple international chess tournaments through the sponsorship and support of FIDE.

“Our program for prisons demonstrates the power of chess. People get motivated, their thinking structured. They enjoy the game, build teams and the basis for their lives,” Dvorkovich said. “Together with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, we have already managed to engage more than 40 countries, but we will not stop at this. Chess for Freedom will expand to new countries worldwide with training, research, and tournaments for inmates.”

Conference attendees visited the Jail to meet with current program participants, and also attended discussions on how to recruit new countries and correctional facilities to participate in the Intercontinental Online Chess for Prisoners Tournament. In October, the tournament featured 83 teams from 46 countries representing every continent except Antarctica.

Currently, nearly 100 individuals in custody at the Jail participate in weekly chess program classes. Studies show programming like these can reduce the number of incidents inside correctional facilities and can make them safer places overall. In order to be eligible, participants must demonstrate good behavior during their time in custody.