CCBF and Allies Join Public Defender’s Petition for Mass Release of People from Cook County Jail
On the afternoon of Friday, March 20, 2020, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli filed an emergency petition calling for the mass release of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail to protect their health and the health of the public in the wake of COVID-19. The petition lists several categories of people who should be released, which largely mirror the demands for release supported by CCBF and more than 70 community organizations, including:
- All persons who are at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, either because of age and/or because of underlying health conditions;
- All pregnant women;
- All persons who are being confined on misdemeanor charges, felony charges as to which they are probationable or non-violent felony charges, including in particular all non-violent class 3 and class 4 felony charges;
- All persons who are being confined following a judicial determination that they are bailable, but who remain in Jail because they cannot pay the money bond set in their cases;
- All persons who are being confined following arrest on a warrant or upon an allegation of parole or probation violation and who are not charged with or suspected of a crime of violence;
- All persons serving sentences of imprisonment in the Jail;
- All persons who are eligible for release only if they satisfy the conditions of electronic monitoring but who remain in the Jail because they have “no place to stay;”
An amicus brief in support of the mass release petition was filed on behalf of Chicago Community Bond Fund, The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Illinois Justice Project, and Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice with an additional 26 advocacy, community, and legal organizations joining in support. The amicus puts into perspective the seriousness of COVID-19 and the magnitude of the risk it presents to people incarcerated in Cook County Jail and the broader Cook County community.
Cook County Jail is a ticking time bomb. There are approximately 5,500 people incarcerated in the jail on any given day, but dozens if not hundreds of people admitted and exiting each day. In addition, thousands of staff people enter and exit the jail each week. When COVID-19 inevitably enters the jail—if it has not already—it will cause a public health emergency of a scale that will affect all of Cook County. The jail’s health system will be unable to handle the crisis caused by the virus, which will inevitably put pressure on the entire county’s health system putting the lives of both free and incarcerated people in danger. It is simply impossible to flatten the curve and maintain mass incarceration because of the high rates of spread inside jails and prisons. The only acceptable solution right now is decarceration: the release of thousands of people, not dozens and not even hundreds.
We have been alarmed by Cook County’s failure to respond to the public health needs of Cook County residents by releasing more than a handful of people from Cook County Jail. We are hopeful that this motion, which will be heard on Monday, March 23, 2020, will begin the process of decarcerating Cook County Jail and making everyone safer.
Regardless of what happens with this petition, CCBF remains committed to fighting for the health and freedom of everyone incarcerated in Cook County Jail. Until more action is taken, please keep calling the Office of the Chief Judge and the State’s Attorney’s Office. Instructions are here.
You can read related news coverage and commentary here:
- Chicago Sun-Times, March 20, 2020: Public Defender: Release Cook County Jail inmates who aren’t a threat (coverage of filing of petition)
- Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2020: Low-risk inmates begin exiting Cook County Jail amid coronavirus threat (describing release of what we believe to be 50-75 people)
- Chicago Tribune Op-Ed, March 19, 2020: Commentary: Jail detainees need more consideration during coronavirus crisis (Op-ed by Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, a clinical psychologist and former warden of the Cook County Jail)
- Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, March 19, 2020: Coronavirus risk at Cook County Jail: Reduce number of inmates, and fast (by the Editorial Board)
Thanks to American Friends Service Committee – Chicago, Believers Bail Out, Black Lives Matter: Chicago, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Council of Lawyers, Chicago Desi Youth Rising, Chicago Freedom School, Chicago Torture Justice Center, Chicago Votes Action Fund, First Defense Legal Aid, Gay Liberation Network, Liberation Library, Loevy & Loevy, Love & Protect, Lucy Parsons Labs, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, The People’s Law Office, The People’s Lobby, Organized Communities Against Deportations, Restore Justice, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Trinity United Church of Christ, Uptown People’s Law Center, and Westside Justice Center for signing on in support of the amicus.