Overexposure leads to inmate uprising

Last year, Cook County corrections officers were attacked 500 times. They found 239 weapons inside the jail. Now, there is a newer threat that may be less dangerous but is equally disturbing.

A recent uprising and fire at the Cook County jail raised several questions.

WGN Investigates learned it started because of inmate anger over a new uniform some of them are being forced to wear.

Jail surveillance video shows inmates gathering up green jumpsuits.  Some hide behind a set of stairs, stuffing the clothing with trash. Others throw debris at a TV and climb the walls.

All the while, just out of view of the camera, inmates use a microwave to ignite the jumpsuits.

Within seconds, smoke begins to fill the area.

A special team went in, evacuated the inmates, and put out the fire.

The unrest is an angry response from inmates who are forced to wear the jumpsuits that have been stitched higher, making them harder to take-off quickly.

“These particular detainees expose themselves in the courthouse, to civilians, to the nurses, to our staff,” said Cook County Jail Commander Jason Cianciarulo.

Cianciarulo says it’s getting worse not just in Cook County but at prisons around the country.

It’s gotten so bad at the jail, the sheriff has created a special “exposure unit.”

It currently houses some of the 107 detainees who have repeatedly exposed themselves to - and thrown bodily fluid at - staff.

“The detainees seem to get a kick out of the shock value,” said Cook County Jail Director Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia.

Jail staffers are now filing public indecency charges against inmates with the threat that after the third conviction they’ll be branded as sex offenders.

But for some, that’s not a deterrent.

“Many of them have been with us for an extensive period of time,” Dr. Nneka Jones said.  “Many of them are facing murder charges.  They know they’re going to go away to prison for an extensive amount of years.  So when we try to give our consequences they say ‘What are you going to do to me? I’m going to spend the rest of my life in prison.’”

Sheriff Tom Dart decided to go public with the problem so people on the outside could understand what his staff deals with on the inside.

“These are people in here on horrific cases doing things to cause mayhem and make it extremely difficult,” Sheriff Dart said. The amount of restraint our employees show on a regular basis is amazing, absolutely amazing.”

There were more 350 documented incidents of indecent exposure at the jail last year.

In the first three months of this year, it’s already happened 118 times.