Locked up but ‘free’: How Cook Co. Jail program lessens problems on the inside

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CHICAGO — Cook County Jail inmates waiting to go to trial are taking classes focusing on art, photography and music while they wait behind bars as a way to decrease issues within the jail.

Some of the inmates have been in the jail anywhere from three to seven years waiting to go to trial—some of them are there on appeal. The crimes they're accused of range from sexual assault to murder. While they wait for the judicial process to play out, the sheriff is offering programs to help them improve themselves, which then makes a difference on the environment inside.

“There is nothing really to take your mind away from what's going on and what can be going on,” Lawrence Dupree said.

That lack of purpose, or even distractions, causes problems inside the maximum security tier at the Cook County Department of Corrections. That is, until CJ’s Creative Writing Class began offering programs in the arts: ink drop projects, song writing, poetry and more. Dozens of inmates at a time are getting a chance to be better people.

These classes take them away, only figuratively, from prison life for an hour a week to explore their hidden talents and create an emotional escape for them.

The sheriff said the programs is helping chip away at incident rates at the jail. Over the past year, the number of incidents reported has been less on a deck where the programs are taking place versus those decks or tiers where there are not.

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