A Year in Review: Unjust Incarceration by the Numbers

Dec 28, 2016Press Release

Last month, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart called for an end to a dangerous and unjust cash bail system in Illinois. Sheriff Dart pointed to a system that allows those who pose a danger to the community, such as gun offenders, to go free because they have access to cash, while at the same time jailing the poor by putting a price on freedom that they cannot afford.

In a parallel effort to further illuminate the problem, the Sheriff’s office launched the Hardship Project. The Project tracks the daily tally of non-violent, low-level offenders in custody in the Cook County Jail who are being held because they cannot pay bond amounts of $1,000 or less. Since the Project launched last month, an average of 187 people a day are in the jail because they are too poor to buy their pre-trial freedom.

The Sheriff’s office also listed contact information on its website for the public to contact should they want to help bond out an individual in custody. Since the project began, 108 people have been bonded out by generous citizens.

In further efforts to reform a criminal justice system that perpetuates unjust incarceration, last year Sheriff Dart passed “Rocket Docket” legislation. The law ensures that non-violent defendants charged with low-level crimes of survival such as retail theft or criminal trespassing will have their cases disposed of within 30 days of assignment to a courtroom or be released from the jail pending their trial. Since the law was passed, 100 individuals have been referred through the program with a 96 percent success rate in either expedited adjudication or pre-trial release.

Due to the success of the pilot program, Sheriff Dart has passed an amendment which expands the law to include minor traffic offenses and petty drug possession. This measure takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.

These initiatives and others have effectively ended overcrowding at the Cook County Jail. Today’s jail population is 7,533. Another 2,181 individuals are on electronic monitoring. At this time last year, there were more than 8,200 people behind bars and more than 2,300 people on electronic monitoring.

Though, as reflected in the numbers below, there is still much work to be done to fix this broken system.

  • On Christmas Day, there were 7,473 people behind bars at the Cook County Jail, with another 2,173 on electronic monitoring.
    • Approximately 9,100 of these individuals (94%) are pretrial
    • 342 of the people in-custody are charged solely with misdemeanors
  • In 2016, an estimated 1,203 people were “turnarounds” – meaning they were convicted of their charge and sentenced to state prison but spent so much time incarcerated pre-trial at the Cook County Jail that their sentence had already been served
    • This number is up from an estimated 1,024 in 2015
  • Of those turnarounds, many during their pre-trial incarceration served what turned out to be “dead days” — additional days beyond their eventual sentence
  • The estimated total “dead days” combined to 91,900 days (251 years) of unnecessary incarceration beyond their ultimate prison sentences
    • That number is up more than 10,000 days from last year
  • Dead days in 2016 cost taxpayers an estimated total of $14,704,000 in housing costs
  • In 2016, 10 babies were born to mothers during their incarceration at Cook County Jail

In addition to incarceration, each admission to Cook County Jail triggers an assembly line of daily accommodations – food, sanitary supplies, laundry, transportation, etc. This has critical ramifications for the Cook County taxpayers who subsidize the costs of running Cook County Jail as well as the 4,000 jail employees who work every day to keep this 24/7 operation running smoothly.

In 2016:

  • Food
    • 9+ million meals produced
    • 138 semi truckloads of milk
    • 100 semi truckloads of bread
    • 460 tons of meat
    • 230 tons of vegetables
    • 15 semi truckloads of chips
  • Supplies
    • 507,918 bars of soap
    • 54,578 pairs of shoes
    • 2.1 million pounds of laundry
    • 126,941 toothbrushes
    • 871,614 packs of toothpaste
    • 818,300 garbage bags
  • Transportation
    • 171,739 people transported from Cook County Jail to suburban courthouses for hearings or to Stroger Hospital