CHICAGO – With over 275 cases of COVID-19 in the Cook County Jail population, the fight wages on to get more detainees released.
Thursday, protesters urged the Cook County Sheriff’s Department to release detainees inside the jail.
“Just because we have someone locked up, they do not waive their civil rights,” said Alexa Van Brunt, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Northwestern clinic, said. “And we know that people don’t have access to soap they don’t have access to sanitation. They’re congregating in day rooms and using shared showers and toilets. And it’s really just a recipe for a pandemic to continue to spread.”
The judge denied their release Thursday.
However, the MacArthur Justice Center, who helped file this lawsuit, said the judge did affirm the government’s responsibility to keep incarcerated people safe.
“He granted the motion in part and he denied it in part,” said Van Brunt. “Particularly, the order’s focused on conditions in the jail and he directed the sheriff to do specific things and to put a plan in place to do certain things to protect detainees who are living in the midst of a pandemic right now.”
The motion includes requiring the jail implement effective sanitation, social distancing at intake, rapid testing and protective equipment for detainees.
WGN spoke with a recently released detainee who said “there was too many people to be in one room” after he was moved to a dorm.
“That building hasn’t been used in years so they moved all of us over there, to this big old dorm,” Darnell said.
Darnell is awaiting trial, so he didn’t want to reveal personal information. He said he was in the jail for nearly a month.
The detention center is now the largest hot spot for COVID-19 cases, according to the New York Times.
Darnell said he finally bonded out at the end of March when cases were being confirmed.
“Our trays come back, you’ve got to use the same tray as someone, you’ve got to use the same bathroom, the same toilet as them, I just thought, thank God, I think God I got up out of there,” Darnell said.
Last week, an emergency class-action lawsuit was filed seeking to immediately release medically vulnerable detainees.
The sheriff’s office said they have continued to work around the clock to combat the pandemic, including moving the availability of PPE and sanitation supplies throughout the jail.
They also created an off-site 500-bed quarantine for detainees.
The sheriff’s office released a statement Thursday following the judge’s ruling.
In it, they said in part the judge acknowledged this is an extraordinarily difficult task.
As Judge Kennelly observed in his order, operating the Cook County Department of Corrections is “an extraordinarily difficult task.” This task has become exceedingly more challenging during this current pandemic. We appreciate that the Judge acknowledged the many unique and aggressive efforts that the office has undertaken to identify and help those who catch the virus and to limit its spread. Much of what the court is requiring today has been well underway for weeks and even months in some cases.
As the order clearly shows, most of what the plaintiffs alleged was refuted by the factual record and most of the measures sought by plaintiffs were denied by the court. Unfortunately, all of this could have been accomplished without this unnecessary legal drama if the plaintiff’s attorneys had accepted our invitation to work with us, rather than against us. Instead, this headline-seeking lawsuit is an unnecessary and costly distraction in the middle of such a crisis for our frontline officers and medical staff, whose round-the-clock work is saving lives.
As it relates to releasing detainees, the Sheriff has no direct authority to do so and the plaintiffs have long known that. The office will continue to provide the other stakeholders requested list of detainees that will aid them in identifying individuals for release, a process that has already reduced the population by 1,247 since March 9, a nearly 22% decrease.