October Death at Cook County Jail

In October, an unidentified 30-year-old man from the Lawndale neighborhood became the fourth person known to have died in the custody of the Cook County Sheriff in 2019. He was incarcerated in a “super maximum security” wing of the jail with over 1,000 other people. The judge affirmed that he was not a danger to his community by setting a money bond, rather than ordering him held without the possibility of release. Paying the $100,000 D-Bond (requiring $10,000), however, was impossible. If the judge had followed General Order 18.8A and set an affordable money bond, this loss of life may have been prevented.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to share additional details with the press, including whether or not the man was on suicide watch. Regardless, the focus should not be on whether incarcerated people who are suicidal are “properly” surveilled and further isolated in the manner dictated by jail suicide watch procedures. In fact, many suicide watch protocols may even exacerbate mental health issues, such as the  extreme isolation used in Kern County Jail in California.

CCBF Advisory Board member and civil rights attorney Alan Mills writes in “No One Gets Better on Suicide Watch,” that experiences associated with suicidality—isolation from loved ones, lack of agency, helplessness—are not byproducts of incarceration that can be amended or improved. Rather, they are critical to the very project of incarceration. Mills closes his article with a reminder that “the only way to stop people in prisons and jails from killing themselves is to not put them in prisons and jails.” 

CCBF honors the loss of this man’s life, and our hearts are with his loved ones. Until Cook County Jail is closed, no one inside it is safe. Onward to a world where we do not respond to harm with more violence, isolation, and shame.

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